Oakland: City Council Approves Temporary Moratorium on Rent Hikes

Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Laura Casey
San Jose Mercury News

The City Council approved a temporary moratorium on rent hikes to try to stop the avalanche of displacements impacting many renters throughout the city. The council voted unanimously for the moratorium after first hearing from hundreds of speakers Tuesday night and into the wee hours Wednesday.


The moratorium, a 90-day emergency ordinance that ties the annual allowable rent increase to the consumer price index, provides the city an opportunity to do outreach so tenants know and can exercise their rental rights, City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney said.


Early Tuesday evening, Councilwoman Desley Brooks said there is a "serious, serious" housing emergency in Oakland.


"I think that it's paramount that we pass this emergency ordinance tonight," she said as she threw her support behind the moratorium. 


Supporters far outweighed opponents, most of whom were rental unit owners. Organizations such as Block by Block, the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, SEIU Local 1021, Oakland Parents Together, the Oakland Tenants Union and Oakland Alliance had group members present to support the moratorium.


Individual renters such as Lukas Smithey, a 15-year Oakland resident, also came to the meeting to support the new restrictions. He said he has noticed the dramatic change in housing affordability in recent years. 


"It's obviously a very important issue right now. It's affecting a lot of people, and a lot of people I know have been evicted," he said. "They should put the brakes on this. It's out of control, and there aren't enough protections in place for people to not be displaced."


Casey Jones Bastiaans pointed to Alameda's recent passage of a similar moratorium and said Oakland needs to follow suit.


"I think that it's absolutely imperative that a moratorium be passed this evening so we can come to some solutions," she said.


Yet building owners such as Lin Tymes, who has managed her property for 40 years, said she does not overcharge residents and the CPI is too low to recoup maintenance and other costs. 


"I think there's a lack of fairness," she said. "You just can't keep up with the expenses as it is. You lose control of your property."


Rental housing owner Jay Spencer, who owns a nine-unit building, put it more bluntly.


"These people are sacred. Their rents can't be raised except incrementally and the landlords have to eat it," he said. "It has created a caste system of haves and have-nots. It doesn't help with affordability -- it just saves the sacred cows who have been there forever."


Jill Broadhurst, executive director of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, said the moratorium does not fix the real issue in Oakland, which is a lack of housing. She also said that not allowing rental property owners to raise rents defers maintenance and capital improvements.


"Council and this administration is validating that they approve substandard housing," Broadhurst said. She also argued that the often-quoted 1,000-per-month evictions is an inaccurate figure and that evictions are not as rampant as that.

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