City Beat

Rent too high? Unions want Sacramento rent control and other limits in new ballot measure

Heated rent control fight splits renters, landlords

Groups of renters and landlords converged on California's Capitol on Jan. 11, 2018 for a hearing on a bill to ease restictions on local rent control laws.
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Groups of renters and landlords converged on California's Capitol on Jan. 11, 2018 for a hearing on a bill to ease restictions on local rent control laws.

Sacramento may emerge as a battleground in the rent control debate after experiencing some of the largest rent increases in the nation.

Housing advocates have filed paperwork with the city of Sacramento indicating they intend to collect signatures for a November ballot measure that would cap annual rent hikes on older apartments at 5 percent. The measure also would require landlords to provide thousands of dollars in financial assistance to tenants evicted for certain reasons and create a nine-member elected housing board that would set maximum rent increases each year.

Called the Sacramento Renter Protection and Community Stabilization Charter Amendment, the measure would also limit the circumstances in which tenants could be evicted. Landlords could still kick out tenants who don't pay rent or allow a unit “to be used for any illegal purpose.”

But tenants evicted because their building is being demolished or significantly renovated would be eligible for relocation assistance ranging from $5,500 to $7,000.

Units in publicly-owned facilities or those controlled by most nonprofits would be exempt. State law also exempts single-family homes, condos and housing units built after February 1995 from rent control.

Supporters of the measure need to collect nearly 37,000 signatures from registered city voters to qualify the measure for the November ballot, according to the city clerk's office. Those signatures will be due six months after the city attorney's office completes a summary of the measure, which will likely occur in early March.

In their petition to collect signatures, the group - which includes organizers with the SEIU 1000 union and other labor groups - cited recent reports showing rents in Sacramento have gone up by nearly 10 percent over the last year. Those increases are disproportionately impacting low-income families, the coalition said.

"How many years can we have nearly 10 percent average rent increases?" said Michelle Pariset, a board member with community group Organize Sacramento and one of the ballot measure's authors. "Who making minimum wage can deal with 10 percent year-over-year rent increases?"

Jim Lofgren, senior vice president of the California Apartment Association, which represents owners of rental properties, said his group will lead the campaign to defeat the measure.

"We're sympathetic to the plight of renters, we recognize there is a problem, but this is the wrong solution," he said. "It's going to result in developers and investors who would build in Sacramento and increase the supply of housing to go elsewhere. Investors look for a return on investment and if you cap the return, you're going to go where you can get a greater return."

Local activists have increasingly called on Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council to enact some form of rental regulations. Steinberg said Friday he has met with proponents of the ballot measure and he is "going to intensify the conversations and see if we can come to a set of solutions" for the city's housing crisis. The mayor said it is his goal to come to a compromise with housing advocates that avoids a ballot campaign..

Steinberg said he is "not necessarily in love" with the concept of rent control, saying he worries it will discourage developers from building affordable housing. But, he said, "we must come together and find ways to protect real people from unreasonable rent increases."

The mayor said previously he was considering legislation that would require landlords to give increased notice when raising rents above a certain percentage. He is also pushing a plan to build up to 1,000 tiny homes for the homeless and may propose a ballot measure seeking to raise the sales tax to fund affordable housing, culture and local infrastructure.

"What's going on in this community demands a public policy response," Steinberg said. "I recognize that we need to be about increasing the supply of housing, that's the number one goal. In the meantime, we have an obligation to respond to the people who are absolutely getting priced out and living on the edge."

As for whether the mayor would campaign against the ballot measure, Steinberg said "it's too early" to answer that question.

Pariset said as far as she's concerned, "we're full steam ahead on a ballot measure." She called rent control "absolutely critical."

"That doesn't mean we aren't willing to talk to folks," she said. "We definitely want to hear all kinds of voices and want lots of participation."

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