Santa Ana Activists Begin Push To Put Rent Control on November Ballot

Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Gabriel San Roman
OC Weekly

A coalition of activist groups gathered on the steps of Santa Ana city hall to kick off a campaign to bring rent control to the city. Frustrated by a lack of support from council members, Tenants United Santa Ana (Tú Santa Ana) filed an ordinance with the city clerk yesterday afternoon following a rally. If successful, the campaign aimed at the November ballot would make Santa Ana the first city in Orange County to establish broad rent control regulations. “Low-income community members in Santa Ana live day-to-day, month-by-month under a constant fear of displacement,” said Jonathan Bibriesca, a social worker and proponent of the rent control measure.

“It is saddening, heartbreaking and angering to hear story after story of abusive landlords disproportionately increasing rent for the sole purpose of disposing people.” Back in September, advocates organized a “Renters Week of Action” in the city to build support for rent control. The issue came to a head months later in February during a city council study session. While voting to continue studying rent control, none of the city council members signaled strong support and remained non-committal. That’s when Tú Santa Ana decided to take the issue straight to voters. “We, the residents of Santa Ana, have the moral responsibility to take leadership where others have failed us,” said Ana Siria Urzua, sustainability director for Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities and a former city council candidate. “Unregulated profits in the housing market is only a recipe for more people on the streets.”

The proposed rent control ordinance, dubbed “the City of Santa Ana Community Preservation, Rent Stabilization, and Renters’ Rights Act,” seeks to introduce a host of new regulations. For starters, it would establish a base rent on rates that were in effect for covered units on Nov. 1, 2017. For tenants who moved in after that date, whatever initial rental rate they paid at the onset applies. If passed, landlords can only raise rent annually by the percentage increase of the Consumer Price Index. In addition to rent control measures, there’s also eviction protections. With few exceptions, the ordinance seeks to restrict landlords from evicting tenants who otherwise haven’t failed to pay rent or breached their lease. It also calls on council to establish a seven-member Rental Housing Board that would oversee rent control in the city. Single family homes, condominiums, triplexes and duplexes are to be exempted.

During the February study session, rent control faced stern opposition from landlord associations. The ballot measure campaign similarly finds no favor from them. “The Orange County Division of the California Apartment Association (CAA) feels the action of the proponents is rash,” Tommy Thompson, senior vice president of the CAA, wrote the Weekly in an email. “They have completely ignored the proactive efforts of the Santa Ana City Council in forming a task force to examine real policy solutions to our housing crisis.” But for Tú Santa Ana, the crisis demands immediate action in the form of rent control. A year ago, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) interviewed Santa Ana registered voters in Spanish and English about housing and found “the cost of rent” to be the top concern among 84 percent of respondents. A quarter of those surveyed in the city cited extreme concerns about losing their current housing, but 45 percent stated they already knew someone evicted or forced to move.

The most promising survey results for the coalition surrounds rent control with 78 percent of registered voters signaling support for the policy. In order to qualify for the November ballot, the coalition has to gather signatures from ten percent of registered voters–around 12,000 to 13,000–by August 10. Santa Ana joins other cities, like Long Beach, Pasadena and Glendale, in trying to put rent control to voters this year. After the press conference, Bibriesca formally filed petition documents at the city clerk’s office to get the campaign started. In the meantime, the CAA counters that rent control is proven to be a failed policy. “Cities like Santa Ana should focus on encouraging housing production,” Thompson added.

“Rent control will only make the housing crisis worse.” For residents of the distressed Lacy neighborhood in Santa Ana, the ballot measure campaign is the only remedy worth pursuing. A study two years ago found that 43 percent of neighborhood residents had their rent increased in the previous year despite 63 percent living with slumlord housing violations. “The situation is very serious,” Concepcion Rodriguez, a Lacy resident, told the Weekly in Spanish. “Why? Because every month property owners raise the rent on residents.” Neighbors come to her complaining that they’ve had their rent hiked an additional $125 per month without any notice in complexes where monthly rates range between $1,600 and $1,800.

“That’s too much!” she said. “The cost of living is very high and wages are very low.” Idalia Rios is also a Lacy resident and member of Vecindario Lacy en Acción. “It’s very sad when someone comes to me and asks, ‘What can I do now that I’ve just gotten an eviction letter?'” she said in Spanish during the press conference. Rios lamented that she has to tell neighbors that no protections exist for them, something she’s optimistic voters may have the opportunity to change come November. “There’s hope, not solely for parents or the community but for all of Santa Ana.”

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