Santa Rosa has been seriously considering rent control for more than six months, but after a $75,000 report on the issue and one of the largest turnouts for a City Council meeting in recent memory Tuesday, city leaders seem as confounded as ever over how to move forward.
The seven-member council remains profoundly split on the subject, with three members strongly against rent stabilization, two strongly in favor, and two saying they’d need a lot more information before making a decision.
“I am not looking to go to full-on rent control. It’s just too much too soon,” Mayor John Sawyer said.
The owner of two rental units in Santa Rosa, Sawyer said he’s a “very fair landlord” who thinks the city should focus its energy on building more housing and improving the quality of what’s already here.
He said he would support a more “comprehensive inspection program” by the city, and the creation of a mediation process that gives people a place to take their grievances when rental issues arise, especially when properties are in poor condition.
“They should not be living in fear of retribution because they are living in unsafe conditions,” Sawyer said.
Several speakers sought to bolster their cases by referencing this week’s Press Democrat series on people living in squalid conditions, contending the news stories were either proof of the need for rent control or evidence that the city should focus on enforcing existing codes instead of adopting new restrictions.
But Julie Combs, perhaps the strongest advocate for rent stabilization on the council, pushed back against the real estate interests who packed the council chambers, many arguing that rent control is not the right solution to the housing crisis in Santa Rosa.
“Rent stabilization is not a Band-Aid, it’s a tourniquet,” Combs said in prepared remarks. “It’s a tourniquet to prevent our community from bleeding out its working families, young adults, seniors and our middle class. These are the lifeblood of our community.”
Their comments came at the end of a more than five-hour study session discussing a consultant’s report and the work of a three-member council subcommittee that met over the past three months to assess the options before the city, along with the pros and cons of programs operating elsewhere.
Dozens of real estate agents, property managers and landlords, many wearing Real Housing Solutions buttons, lambasted rent control as a foolhardy, unfair and ultimately ineffective way to create or preserve affordable housing.
Agent Paul Heck predicted that investors will take their money to other places, like Texas, if the city adds another layer of bureaucracy to the housing market. He noted that Santa Rosa has been blessed with a great location and good weather.
“One can only hope the politicians and the bureaucrats won’t find a way to screw it up,” Heck said.
Numerous supporters of rent control, many wearing signs shaped like yellow houses, urged the council to protect people from unfair and destabilizing rent increases. Housing advocates called it “baloney” that rent control reduces investment in units.
Jesse Strecker said he grew up in Santa Rosa and moved back recently to take care of his aging parents and return to school. But he said high rents make him and some of his friends question whether they have a future in the city.