Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Thursday he opposes a rent control ballot measure being pushed by the powerful Service Employees International Union labor union and is instead drafting an ordinance with protections for renters he plans to bring to the City Council this summer.
SEIU, other unions and renter advocates have been circulating petitions this spring trying to qualify the measure for the November ballot. It would cap annual rent increases on older apartments at 5 percent, force 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.
But Steinberg is meeting with labor and business representatives to draft an ordinance that avoids a rent control ballot measure. The mayor announced earlier Thursday he will seek to raise the city portion of the sales tax to 1 percent on the November ballot, and he said he wants to avoid a "$7 million firefight on the ballot at the same time (as the sales tax measure)."
"The SEIU initiative, while well-intentioned, I think is overwritten and if it passes would harm our ability to build more affordable housing," the mayor told The Sacramento Bee. "The issues raised by SEIU and the housing advocates are very real, but I want to work hard to maximize the chance that this doesn't go on the ballot."
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Sacramento has had some of the highest year-over-year rent increases in the nation. Housing advocates said the rent hikes are forcing many longtime residents from their homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods.
The group pushing the ballot measure declined Wednesday to say how many signatures they've collected or if they intend to file the petitions with the city. The city clerk's office said signatures must be filed by June 20 to give elections officials enough time to place the measure on the ballot.
The measure is opposed by many business and development groups, who argue rent control would stop developers from building housing because their profits would be limited. Those business groups sent letters to city officials this week expressing their concerns and have threatened to sue if the measure appears on the ballot, arguing it is too far-reaching to go to the voters through a signature-gathering campaign.
Steinberg said he would not rush to bring a rent ordinance to the City Council. He said he opposes the creation of a rent control board and rent control that applies to new or recent residential construction. But he said he wants an ordinance that protects low-income residents and those with disabilities living in older residential complexes.
"I'm not going to flinch because everyone has their fighting gear on," he said. "You have to address the real life crisis of today's circumstances. I'm looking for a reasoned, intelligent conversation and debate about a very serious set of issues."