With less than a month until a June 6 vote in the Sonoma County city of Santa Rosa on rent control, two councilmembers outlined the pros and cons of the issue.
“Action is needed immediately to achieve a fair, affordable and stable community now,” Julie Combs told more than 250 members and guests gathered May 3 for the monthly Sonoma County Alliance meeting. “While Measure C does not build homes, lower rents or house the homeless, it does prevent current residents from being displaced.”
Tom Schwedhelm called Measure C a “distraction.”
“Rent control is too extreme for Santa Rosa and is a distraction from the real problem — building more housing.”
Combs said in 2015 the fastest-rising rents in California were in Santa Rosa and “with a vacancy rate of around 1 percent, we might as well hang a ‘no vacancy’ sign at the city limits.”
Combs noted portions of the proposed law would lift restrictions under certain conditions. It includes a sunset clause, triggered when the apartment vacancy rate rises to 5 percent. And landlords can return to market rate rents between tenants.
What’s more, rent control cannot be applied to new construction projects by state law, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Landlords have a guaranteed fair rate of return on their investment, she said.
Measure C applies just to buildings constructed prior to 1995, which comprises about 20 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock.
It is these tenants who reap the benefits of government’s artificial manipulation of the system, without any means of testing to confirm their need of rent-controlled units, Schwedhelm said.
Many assume rent control will assist the lowest income community members. However, since rent controlled units are not managed by the tenant’s ability to pay, someone who could afford to pay market rate may never leave a rent-controlled unit, he said.
“At the end of the day, those who are seeking affordable housing or close to experiencing homelessness are on the outside looking in,” Schwedhelm said.
Combs replied that the current housing market economy doesn’t work for most renters, because there is no place to move. She noted that tenants are spending a higher percentage of their income on rent, leaving less money to spend in the local economy.
“More than half of the renters in Sonoma County are rent stressed with many paying 50 percent of their income on rent, and some paying 75 percent, meaning they can’t afford to live here if their rents climb higher with the market,” she said.
The rent-control ordinance was “carefully crafted to ensure that every Santa Rosan who lives here now and who works hard and plays by the rules can live in an apartment without the specter of unlimited rent increases hanging over their heads,” Combs said.
She pointed to a 2016 University of California, Berkeley, Urban Displacement Project study. It found that cities with rent control have been more stable, have slowed displacement and have protected and preserved their existing community.
“These cities are a testament that rent control works to preserve stability and keep our residents in their homes,” Combs said.
She contended studies support the idea that frequent moves triggered by difficulty in getting housing leads to developmental and health issues for children. Santa Rosa is working to address housing with a five-program and a 24-point Housing Action Plan with a housing-first policy for the city’s homeless. However, she pointed out it will take years for the supply of housing to meet demand.