Opponents of tenant protections use misleading survey to collect data

If you recently received an email or text from a coalition of “concerned El Cerrito community members” asking you to complete a survey, please be wary.  The unidentified group commissioned Voxloca, a Bay Area data collection company, to solicit resident views about tenant protections.

The problem with the survey is that it’s full is misleading and inaccurate information about the current discussion happening in El Cerrito around how to protect renters from price gauging, excessive rent increases and no-cause evictions.

Below are examples of some of the misleading questions.

What should be the TOP PRIORITY for El Cerrito?

1 – Ensuring the city has enough police officers
2 – Passing new laws to address tenant-landlord issues
3 – Balancing the budget for essential city services
4 – Repairing local streets and roads
5 – Improving our library and parks
6 – None of these

This type of question pits tenant-landlord issues against community resources like libraries, parks and public safety, when it’s not an either-or choice.  By passing tenant protections we don’t take anything away from public safety, roads and any other services, but only improve the quality of life for many.

The survey then launches into a false assertion that a database to track rent and evictions, part of the Rent Registry Ordinance that will be discussed by the Council on May 7th will cost $50,000.

What should the City Council SPEND $50,000 of the city’s budget on?

1 – A database to track rent and evictions
2 – New equipment at neighborhood park
3 – Additional training for police officers
4 – Tree trimming program to prevent fires
5 – Emergency housing programs for renters
6 – None of these

To be clear, the Rent Registry is not funded through the general fund and its cost does not diminish revenues for parks or fires.  It is based on fees. But without having a fuller context of why we need to track rent and evictions, most respondents would obviously not mark this as their number one priority.  A better question may be something like this:

The city is concerned that high rents may be displacing long term residents and that some tenants are facing evictions, but has no data.  Should the city create a Rent Registry that would be funded through a small registration fee from each rental unit?

The Voxloca Survey uses a similar tactic of pitting services against tenant protection by asking “If the City Council RAISES NEW TAXES where should it be spent?”

1 – New library
2 – More police officers
3 – New city employees to regulate landlords
4 – An affordable housing fund
5 – None — Don’t raise taxes

Again, any program that might regulate rents and/or landlords would be fee based and generate funds through registration of eligible rental units. The survey continues to ask vague questions related to Just Cause for Eviction, such as if they council should pass a new law that would “make it MORE DIFFICULT to evict problem tenants who deal drugs or are disruptive?

The question assumes that the “new law” would make it more difficult to evict problem tenants. Instead, a better question to ask El Cerrito voters might be:

The law currently allows landlords to evict any tenant without giving a cause. Do you think the city should enact a law that requires the landlord to give a reason for an eviction?

At first blush, it’s easy to think that an entity like the California Apartment Association is behind the effort.  After all, the CAA is a powerful lobbying group representing more than 50,000 landlords throughout the state has the money and experience fighting tenant protections. But the truth is that we can’t make any assumptions. It could be CAA, a local landlord or perhaps the Chamber of Commerce. What is clear is that Voxloca is willing to push out surveys full of bias and based on false assertions that are clearly intended to collect data to use to discredit efforts to strengthen tenant protections in El Cerrito.

Another misleading question in the survey is whether the City Council should “create a new housing department” with power to create a city database of all El Cerrito renters. If you’ve been following the City Council meetings and the narrative coming from the opponents of tenant protections, you know that there are some who love to mention Richmond and Berkeley as a scare tactic.  I won’t name names here, but one prominent developer likes to suggest that any type of rent stabilization program will result in a huge bureaucracy, and cost a million dollars. The truth of the matter is that the City Council is not discussing a new housing department nor have they spoken about registering renters. Instead, it appears to be a scare tactic for people who might be afraid of big government.

Other questions in the survey allege that the city is considering a new law to “force a landlord to subsidize a tenant’s rent, even though with good paying jobs.” This is entirely false. There is no such law being considered. Instead, the council is discussing a relocation allowance for tenants forced to move due to demolition. Council member Lyman had proposed a policy that would require landlords to pay a tenant who was forced to move if they could not afford a rent increase of more than 10% per year, but this motion did not garner enough votes.

To put the question on its head, one could argue that there are many current renters subsidizing landlords by paying excessive rents. These subsidies are helping landlords pay for their children’s college education, paying for expensive vacations, luxury homes and much more. Tenant protections are for all tenants, not just those who are low income, although tenants who are low income or on fixed income are most vulnerable to displacement within our current housing market.

In summary, it’s unfortunate that Voxloca can access our emails and phone numbers and send out a misleading survey to collect data that will used to fight against tenant protections.  What the company is doing is not illegal, but it’s wrong and should be called out.  Shame on you Voxloca for sending out a survey so misrepresentative of the issues at hand.  Our city residents deserve better, and we are too smart to fall for your shenanigans. And shame on the “concerned community members” who don’t have the courage to put their names on the survey.

Please let your City Council know that you are concerned about the misleading and inaccurate survey being conducted by Voxloca.  Come to the May 7th City Council meeting and join us in calling for an end to rent gouging in El Cerrito!

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