Sebastopol city officials may wade into the controversial arena of rent control and tenant protections this week, though just where any discussion might lead is not at all clear.
The subject is coming before the city council during its regular Tuesday meeting at the request of Councilman Robert Jacob, who said he wanted just “to start off the conversation,” though the end of his council term in December means he would miss out on any extended deliberations.
Jacob is asking the council to direct the city attorney to investigate and analyze options that might offer relief against the kind of skyrocketing rates and groundless expulsions that have been rampant around the greater Bay Area in recent years.
It’s a small first step, but it reflects a housing crisis that has driven rent control movements in many area communities, including Santa Rosa, whose adoption of tenant protections in August helped spur Jacob to bring the matter before Sebastopol’s council, he said.
New laws could help “protect our most vulnerable populations,” and prevent the city from losing its working families, seniors and young people, Jacob said.
But the mere suggestion of action on rent control has mobilized opponents, many of whom already are chafed by the bruising battle in Santa Rosa, where the new law has been blocked by a successful petition drive and is headed to a public vote.
A “Call to Action” in circulation online urges opponents of “draconian housing policies” to speak out now against consideration of new Sebastopol laws that would “punish rental property owners to solve the city’s housing issues.”
The email was authored by the California Apartment Association, the same entity that successfully blocked imposition of the Santa Rosa ordinance. That law capped housing rental hikes at 3 percent a year, absent major capital improvements to the property, and specified violations for which tenants may be duly evicted.
Among those eager to voice his concern is Bill Kelley, owner of Sebastopol-based Kelley Rentals, who said provisions in the Santa Rosa law strip away the rights of landlords to control and vet those to whom their property is entrusted, and make even warranted, just-cause evictions so onerous that the only beneficiaries are attorneys.
He also said that unfair laws only drive away would-be landlords, potentially reducing the stock of available rentals.
But Sebastopol Councilman Patrick Slayter said a decision simply to explore its options, as requested by Jacob, would not commit the council to taking action. “We’re not saying ‘yes.’ We’re not saying ‘no.’ ” he said.
Vice Mayor Una Glass, meanwhile, said she had expected next year to address the issue of housing affordability and said it would be advantageous to have a “laundry list” of options that might include creative ways to expand the available rentals while allowing homeowners, especially seniors, who have more space than they need to rent out part of it.
“My sense is that we’re going to need to look at other kinds of options other than just like a standard rent control option,” Glass said.
According to the city’s latest Housing Element of the General Plan, more than 48 percent of the city’s approximately 3,500 households are renters.
Of those, more than 57 percent, or 955 households, paid more than 30 percent of their gross monthly income for housing in 2012, and thus were considered to be “overpaying” for housing, according to state standards.