On May 21st, after several public meetings and months of back and forth of proposals between City Council and staff, Mayor Pardue-Okimoto and Council members Fadelli and Lyman voted in favor of a Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance and a Rent Registry Ordinance. The text of both these ordinances can be found here as well as historical background:El Cerrito New Tenant Protections Continue reading “Tenant Protections Under Attack in El Cerrito – Update”
For the last two years, members of El Cerrito Progressives have been advocating for tenant protections to the City Council. On Tuesday, May 7th, the City Council finally voted with a 3-2 split for a Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance. (Mayor Pardue-Okimoto, Fadelli, Lyman -for/ Abelson, Quinto-against. Continue reading “Rights for Tenants Critical in El Cerrito-Council Inches Forward”
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!
When the El Cerrito City Council met March 5th, 2019 to discuss tenant protections, they were rehashing staff proposals first presented at the December 18th meeting last year. At that time the Human Relations Commission brought forward a resolution recommending that the city council place a cap on rent increases as well as a Just Cause Eviction ordinance to help renters.
The Human Relations Commission recommended that a task force of tenants, landlords and homeowners be formed to craft renter protection policies that would be unique to El Cerrito. With the California Apartment Association mobilizing over 100 landlords representing the “mom and pop” housing providers, a task force comprised of tenants, landlords and homeowners may be one way to avoid the divisive discourse promoted by the members of CAA.
Mayor Pardue-Okimoto and Council member Lyman tried to adopt the cap on rent increases, but they could not find a third vote. Council member Fadelli offered a motion for a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance and mustered the votes of the Mayor and Lyman, but coverage only for 14% or the renters or the 105 buildings that house 5 or more units. Lyman captured a majority vote for the creation of a Rent Registry to get more data from landlords, and finally, Councilmember Abelson put forward a motion for a task force, garnishing affirmative votes from the remaining members. Councilmember Quinto argued that the city could simply not afford any thing and basically suggested that we let the State define policy for our local tenant issues. All of this discussion can be fact checked City Council Meeting March 5th.
City staff plan to bring back 1) a draft ordinance for Just Cause Eviction (covering 14% of the renters), 2) a proposal for a structure to have a facilitated task force, and 3) more detailed plan for the Rent Registry, including cost, in May 2019.
El Cerrito Progressives Responds…
The city council is putting forward a false narrative that El Cerrito “doesn’t have a problem with high rents.” We know the reality is that many renters are spending a significant portion of their income on housing, and some are just a few paychecks away from homelessness. That’s why we are conducting a renter survey to better understand what El Cerrito renters are paying each month, how often their rent is increased and by how much. While the city thinks about a Rent Registry and questions to ask landlords, we want to make sure that renters’ voices are heard. If you a renter with a story about housing to share or would like to complete our survey, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also organizing a Tenant Rights Clinic on Wednesday, April 24 where tenants can get free legal help. There is strength in numbers. Join us!
Submitted by: Sherry Drobner
The El Cerrito City Council postponed a decision on a package of tenant protections following almost 4 hours of a presentation and public comment at the February 19th meeting. The crowd, composed of a majority of single family home landlords, spoke out against “just cause eviction” and “rent control”. The landlords sported bright yellow tags identifying themselves as “responsible housing providers”, compliments of the California Apartment Association (CAA). Members of the CAA also circulated a document on rent control, which according to one tenant in the audience, read like “gobblygook.” The photocopied document, without a credited author, basically served as a rant against the Richmond rent control model, citing the high salaries of the department members and overall cost of the program. Again, a reminder to the reader, the city council agenda that evening did not address rent control, nor were any of the tenant protections remotely similar to that referenced anonymous rent control article. The circulation of this document seemed to be an extension of a scare campaign aimed at single family home landlords.
The study session began when he Affordable Housing Analyst Aissia Ashoori, led the council through a lengthly overview of the tools: Just Cause for Eviction Rent Registry Tenant Relocation triggered by rent increases.
The Powerpoint, which can be accessed at this link, Tenant Protections Presentation did little to relieve the fears of the numerous landlords worried about creating a new bureaucracy that might ultimately cost them additional money. A graphic display of the Rent Registry information flow system, intended to collect data on number of rental units, and rental rates, resembled a full size checkerboard. The number of steps from start to finish were so numerous and burdensome, even those of us in support of a Registry questioned the wisdom of this system. Council member Fadelli commented in this vain stating something similar at the close of the presentation . Ashoori attempted to clarify the process, verbally offering a simpler explanation of the Rent Registry syste.
Although the Rent Registry drew a great deal of heat from the landlords, mainly because of the bureaucracy and a potential cost, a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance truly stood front in center as the enemy of the “responsible housing provider”. Biggest objection: Landlords claimed that they could not afford the cost of eviction, and that their rentals represented their 401k or retirement plan.
After the meeting I approached one landlord who schooled me on “landlording as a business”. She explained that her rental was an investment and every investment has a risk factor. At some point if the risk factor outweighs the benefit, or in this case the profit, then she, as a smart investor, would simply take her house off the market. The council heard similar threats from many of the landlords who spoke at public comment. Just a side bar- the cost for eviction doesn’t change with “just cause”. What does change is that the landlord can no longer evict for “no cause”.
I found irony, sitting in a meeting for tenant protections with a room dominated by people identified as “responsible housing providers” speaking fearfully about what amounts to be fairly weak protections for tenants. But fear won the wrestling match, pinning compassion to the ground, and in this case using a choke hold. One tenant said to me, “I thought this meeting was suppose to be for tenants?”
For those who are concerned about maintaining an economically and racially diverse community, a community where we can house our teachers as well as our IT workers, our grocery clerks as well as our lawyers, our seniors or others on fixed income, this meeting missed the mark. Notable was the absence of this concern in the discussion. Two speakers both spoke to their disappointment with the landlords/investors, with one speaker calling out the reactions and threats as selfish and clearly not in the interest of the greater community. To be fair, a few landlords did express sympathy with those tenants facing eviction and proposed some type of community fund for renter relief on a case by case basis.
After 50 or more speakers, with the clock nearing the 11th hour, the council voted to hold over discussion and action until March 5th. They will re-adjourn at 5:30 p.m. without public comment at the onset. This decision seemed to be in the best interest of all parties, as people were tired, the presentation seemed to leave more questions than answers, and most importantly, if the city acts they should get it right.
Honestly, the meeting disturbed many of us who are concerned about tenant protections, as we are not certain that the staff or council is getting it right. On December 18th the Human Relations Commission put forward a recommendation for tenant protections. This recommendation included a temporary rent cap, just cause eviction ordinance, and the convening of a community task force comprised of tenants, landlords and homeowners to hash out a more permanent solution. If the council had paid attention to the HRC resolution, the meetings and discussion in January might have lead to an ordinance by as early as March.
While the City staff and Council drag out this arduous process, other cities, regional bodies and the State of California is moving forward. The State is contemplating a state-wide anti-rent gouging legislation as well as just cause for eviction, and the CASA Compact 2019 drafted by the Committee to house the Bay Area includes similar recommendations for the Bay Area region.
Please write the Mayor and Council Members prior to the March 5th meeting El Cerrito City Council E-mail and ask them to reconsider the HRC Resolution on Tenant Protections. Let’s get the predatory landlords out of El Cerrito and lets tell the “responsible housing providers” to turn their ears away from the fear mongering of the CAA.