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Healdsburg set to require landlords to pay relocation fees for no-fault tenant evictions

The Healdsburg City Council is lining up behind a plan that would require landlords to pay for up to three months’ rent for tenants evicted through no fault of their own, going beyond a new state law to help the city’s lower-income workforce remain housed.

After nearly a year of study, including failure to pass a proposed urgency ordinance last spring to address a growing number of low-income displacements, a majority of the council members agreed to the updated rental rules this week and ordered staff to draft an ordinance. That ordinance, which would be one of the first of its kind in the Bay Area if adopted this spring, builds upon a set of statewide tenant protections that went into effect at the start of the year to prevent renters from being removed from units without recourse.

The new state law, AB 1482, caps annual rent hikes at no more than 10% for the next decade and offers evicted tenants a single month of rental assistance to help them pay for another apartment.

Under the guidelines that drew broad support at Monday’s Healdsburg City Council meeting, landlords in the small Wine Country city would have to provide tenants they remove without cause up to two additional months of free rent beyond the state guidelines, or the equivalent amount of money so they can afford other housing.

“The state did what it did. But I think we have an opportunity here to do something that’s really right for Healdsburg,” Councilman Shaun McCaffery said Monday. “We’ve gone through a number of large eviction events, and I think that’s just going to continue. It just seems like there needs to be some social justice there, and that’s kind of where we come in.”

While AB 1482 includes no rent maximums or income restrictions, Healdsburg’s ordinance will operate on a sliding scale to prioritize lower-income residents. Tenants making up to 120% of the area’s median income, or roughly $78,000 for an individual and $112,000 for a family of four, will be entitled to an extra month of assistance beyond what the state requires. Evicted tenants making up to 80% of the area’s median income, or about $60,000 for an individual and $86,000 for a family of four, can expect two additional months of rent replacement.

The issue of displaced workers erupted in February when two apartment complexes were bought by investors, who then served notice to their tenants to leave their below-market apartments so that the owners could upgrade the units and covert them to market-rate rentals. A similar incident occurred in 2015, leaving many mostly Latino residents with nowhere to go and not enough money saved up to afford the first and last month at a different complex, plus a security deposit.

Healdsburg, with a short supply of available housing, is one of Sonoma County’s most expensive rental markets. The city’s median rental rate through the end of last year hovered around $3,000 a month, according to online real estate service Trulia.

Through a partnership with Santa Rosa-based nonprofit Burbank Housing, the city helped buy three apartment complexes last year with the use of an affordable housing fund approved by voters in 2016 to prevent further resident displacements. It was also during that time, at the behest of a group of affordable housing advocates, that the City Council began mulling the rental relocation assistance concept. On Monday, the approach got new life and appears headed for future approval and implementation.

A state apartment association official and local real estate agent each advocated against the new rental measure at Monday’s meeting, saying they feared the potential consequences of burdening landlords with the added expense, especially with the new state law only taking effect in the past week. Mayor Leah Gold was not persuaded, saying she felt the added tenant protection was necessary to maintain a diversity of income levels among the city’s population of about 12,000 people.

“What we’re talking about here is a phenomenon where these old buildings are being purchased speculatively with the idea of renovating them and taking them up to a market-rate rent,” Gold said. “To me, that’s just a cost of doing business if they are displacing these low-income tenants.”

Of the five council members, only Councilman David Hagele signaled opposition to the rental assistance rules that were eventually endorsed. Instead, he proposed tapping the city’s affordable housing fund to cover the relocation costs rather than expecting landlords to foot the bill. The city ordinance will mirror the statewide law in exempting most single-family homes and all deed-restricted affordable housing.

“I think we owe it to our community to provide some stability to our residents,” Councilman Joe Naujokas said of the landlord-focused requirements. “That being said, I think it’s also super important that we need to build more. This is not a solution. This is just a temporary, ‘Let’s stabilize our population until we can get a real solution.’”

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