Healdsburg drops urgent plan to provide tenants relocation funds
Healdsburg has for now hit pause on a potential plan to charge landlords thousands of dollars in fees if they remove tenants without justification, or choose to update an apartment without providing alternative housing.
The City Council scrapped a proposed urgency ordinance on Monday that would have immediately required property owners to provide renters displaced from multi-unit complexes with a relocation assistance payment on their way out the door. The decision came only two weeks after the five-member body unanimously directed its staff to develop the ordinance at the insistence of community advocates who have been outspoken the past month about preserving the city’s limited affordable housing stock.
The ordinance would have ordered landlords to pay as much as $7,000 to departing tenants who lived in the rental for at least a year, so long as they hadn’t violated their lease and were asked to leave through no fault of their own. It would have exempted single-family homes, granny units and duplexes where an owner occupies one of the units.
Vice Mayor Leah Gold and Councilman Shaun McCaffery continued to support the proposal at the Monday meeting and Councilman Joe Naujokas said he was still open to the idea of backing it, while Mayor David Hagele and Councilwoman Evelyn Mitchell each took a step back. Hagele preferred to look at alternatives to an ordinance while Mitchell said she had remaining questions and no longer felt compelled to pass the new rental rules in emergency fashion. That stopped the concept in its tracks because an urgency ordinance needs four votes to pass.
“This is not a perfect ordinance, I recognize that,” McCaffery said. “But I think it’s important that we get this on the books and to kind of stem the bleeding. But I can count to four, and I can see that the urgency ordinance isn’t going to happen tonight.”
The payment plan seemed all but a certainty at the council’s Feb. 19 meeting. Housing administrator Stephen Sotomayor was instructed to come up with a final plan at the meeting, only to see his recommended action shot down Monday following a wave of opposition from local landlords, real estate brokers and a former city mayor who owns a property management company.
“It disincentivizes an owner from making improvements because they will have potential issues on asking a tenant to move out in order to make improvements to the property,” said Carol Lexa, president-elect of the North Bay Association of Realtors. “And it actually incentivizes owners to raise the rent as much as they can every year in order to keep up with the amount that they would have to pay a tenant to leave. I think we all want there to be protections, but not necessarily just laid at the doorstep of the property owner.”
The issue of preserving affordable units for lower-income tenants around the city cropped up again in January after a Marin County couple bought a nine-unit complex on Piper Street as an investment property. They initially told the remaining renters, all of whom are Latino, they could stay on in the transition. Upon seeing the extent of necessary upgrades, their property manager served tenants with 90-day notices to vacate.
The action set off an uproar among those who speak on behalf of vulnerable populations, including many among the working class who work in local agriculture, restaurants and hotels.