Too often in politics we develop policies that create stark winners and losers. When discourse around complicated social and economic challenges breaks down, voters are left with policies reflecting traditional political battle lines that impede creative and collaborative solutions. We offer a middle ground proposal that gets us to yes on Measure C.
Make no mistake, Santa Rosa has a housing crisis. Santa Rosa had the highest average annual rent increase (21 percent) in California in 2015 — among the highest in the nation. The City Council sought a number of prescriptions to address the challenge based on a collective desire to ensure constituents have housing security. Among these was the rent stabilization and just cause for eviction ordinance that voters will be deciding as Measure C on June 6.
Although only four members of the Santa Rosa City Council voted in favor of the rent control ordinance, council members unanimously agreed that construction of more affordable housing is the solution. The council subsequently passed a number of streamlining and incentive-based policies, resulting in the highest number of permit applications since 2004 — a hopeful indication of things to come.
But housing construction takes years. Until new housing is move-in ready, nothing can guarantee that affordable-by-design housing (i.e., apartments) will remain affordable in Santa Rosa, but we believe Measure C can help.
It is true that rent control will not create affordable housing or solve homelessness, but it will preserve a significant number of affordable apartment units that we cannot afford to lose. However, the ordinance, as written, will likely have negative unintended consequences. We have three primary areas of concern.
First, the ordinance’s relocation assistance provision is costly for landlords (most of whom are local), and will likely be a financial barrier to properly maintaining, rehabilitating and remodeling depressed properties. The same objective of avoiding the insecurity associated with tenant relocation could be achieved without discouraging needed repairs by requiring ample notice of the upcoming remodel and the right to return upon completion.
Also concerning is the reality that landlords would become even more selective and risk-averse, reducing opportunities for individuals with poor credit and Section 8 voucher holders. Homeless service providers have noticed this phenomenon in other rent-controlled cities, which has negatively impacted their ability to find permanent housing for those without. The city can avoid this by establishing a risk mitigation pool, a fund that reimburses landlords for losses sustained as a result of leasing to riskier candidates. The City Council must establish this program if it wishes to continue housing our most vulnerable.
Finally, this ordinance would benefit from a sunset clause based on time rather than a vacancy rate. Under the current ordinance, the City Council can revisit rent control when the vacancy rate is 5 percent for 12 consecutive months. The last time the vacancy rate was this high was in the early 2000s, which did not last 12 consecutive months. In a community that carefully balances growth and environmental values, this vacancy rate might be impossible to attain. We recommend the council agree to revisit the issue in two years to review the effects of the ordinance on tenants and landlords and survey the housing market and the forces that shape it. The City Council can then maintain, discontinue or revise the ordinance as dictated by that analysis.