Oakland and the Limits of Rent Control: A Battle at the Ballot

Friday, October 28, 2016
Lauren Helper
Oakland North (SF Gate)

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, Oakland-based housing activist group Causa Justa :: Just Cause has spent more than $140,000 in support of the measure, city campaign finance records show. Though advocates for the measure expect counter-spending from rental real estate interests, the politically powerful California Apartment Association and affiliated groups have yet to report any spending in Oakland, instead funneling more than $1.5 million into other Bay Area rent control races.

In the meantime, precisely how many Oakland tenants stand to be immediately affected by Measure JJ’s expanded eviction protections—should it pass—remains unclear.

Oakland Tenants Union Co-Founder James Vann cites an estimate based on building permits that upwards of 8,000 units would be covered by the new eviction rules. Landlord groups including the East Bay Rental Housing Association peg the number at more like 1,200 to 1,600 units, based on the number of apartment buildings constructed in the 1980s and 90s.

City of Oakland representatives did not respond to multiple requests for updated internal calculations on how many residents would be affected by Measure JJ, or what it would cost to enforce. A May report by the city clerk evaluated a much broader version of the proposal, which failed to gain adequate signatures for the ballot, and projected that more than 10,000 units would be affected and that enforcement could cost as much as $24 million annually.

“Unfortunately, the city does a lousy job of keeping statistics,” Vann said.

When it comes to political calculus, he and members of his tenants’ union also worry that voter turnout in areas of the city defined by vastly different income levels could be a blow to their cause.

“We’re going to fight like hell to get the turnout in the flatlands up to 50 percent, but the turnout in the hills is 80 to 90 percent,” Vann said.

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