The debate over rent control: What does Richmond need?
on November 3, 2018
Raul Vasquez plans to vote for Proposition 10 to allow cities to expand rent control on housing because the rent on his Richmond house has risen nearly 70 percent in the past two years.
The 63-year-old father of three who has lived in Richmond for more than three decades now pays $2,500 for the three-bedroom house that cost him $1,500 in rent in 2016.
“It’s hard for me to pay that much rent because I have to support my children,” he says, noting that they are now in college. Proposition 10 aims to repeal Costa-Hawkins, the state rental housing act passed in 1995.
If it is repealed, cities like Richmond would gain more freedom to expand rent control. Under Costa-Hawkins, single-family houses and buildings constructed after February 1995 cannot be subjected to cities’ rent control regulations.
Richmond adopted a rent control ordinance in 2016. It allows landlords to make annual cost of living rent increases. The allowed rent increase was 3 percent in 2016, and 3.4 percent in 2017, according the city’s annual report.
The city’s ordinance covered more than 9,000 multi-unit buildings that received a certificate of occupancy before February 1, 1995. But because of the Costa-Hawkins law, Richmond couldn’t fully impose rent control on housing built after that date. If the law were repealed by Proposition 10, Richmond would be free to expand its rent control program to include newer and single-family houses, like the one in which Vasquez lives.
Expanding rent control is popular in Richmond because of the struggle of many people like Vasquez who cannot afford the huge rent increases on their houses. “The squeeze on low-income renters in Richmond, and black and Latino residents, in particular, has been building since the foreclosure crisis some 10 years ago,” according to a study by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley.
With the tech industry boom, the cost of housing in the area has skyrocketed. Rents in Richmond have risen by more than 30 percent in the past five years, and the percentage of Richmond renters who are overburdened by their housing costs increased from 34 percent in the year 2000, to 46 percent in 2015, according to the Haas Institute.
Vasquez says he seriously worries about becoming homeless if rents keep rising.
“If Costa-Hawkins don’t repeal, the landlords can raise the rent whenever they want, and we’re gonna be on the streets,” Vasquez said.
Melvin Willis, the vice mayor of Richmond, said repealing the Costa-Hawkins law would be beneficial to tenants like the seniors living in newly-built complexes like Heritage Park at Hilltop. The housing provider intended to increase rents by 12 percent this year.
“We were able to organize and stop them from doing that rent increase,” Willis said in an interview. But he said, “there’s nothing stopping them from increasing the rent next year. ”
If Proposition 10 were passed, Richmond would be able to expand rent control to apply to newer buildings like Heritage Park at Hilltop. This would help many, “seniors and vulnerable low-income people that are renting in Richmond,” Willis said.
But repealing Costa-Hawkins remains a controversial topic. Mayor Tom Butt is firmly opposed to it, calling the notion of repealing Costa-Hawkins to allow more rent control, “a terrible idea.”
If the law is repealed and Richmond expands rent control, Butt said, “I don’t think you will ever see another new project built in Richmond.”
Others share his concern, even as they agree that more affordable housing is urgently needed.
Ernst Valery, a housing developer who plans to build around 1,500 units in downtown Richmond, said there needs to be more discussion before repealing Costa-Hawkins.
“Repealing Costa-Hawkins would take away the incoming governor’s ability to address affordable and workforce housing needs in collaboration with all the stakeholders at the table,” Valery said.
“The repeal may also have many unintended consequences that reduce availability and further displaces vulnerable people and families,” Valery said.
Michael Vasilas, the co-founder of Association of United Richmond Providers, an organization of 90 housing providers, said expanded rent control regulations could make landlords give up entirely on the rental market in Richmond, which could worsen the housing crisis.
“If we get rid of Costa-Hawkins and all the protections are gone, it’s gonna have a dramatic negative effect on all housing in Richmond,” Vasilas said.
But Vasquez feels so strongly about the need for expanding rent control that he is working with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, an advocacy group pushing to pass Proposition 10.
He plans to attend a watch party with the alliance on Tuesday night and says they will all be celebrating if Proposition 10 is passed.
The Richmond Rent Program, the city department that oversees rent control in Richmond, hasn’t reached a conclusion on how soon rent control could expand to fully cover all houses if Costa-Hawkins gets repealed on Tuesday, although Richmond’s rent control ordinance appears to allow for the immediate expansion.
If Costa-Hawkins is repealed, city officials would the next day begin having legal and policy discussions, according to Nicolas Traylor, the executive director of the city’s rent control program.
Extending rent control could require a vote either of the city rent board or city residents.
“We will potentially have to go back to the voters, and some of the decisions might have to go to the policy makers,” Traylor said.
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