Rent Revolt: Ballot Measure Aims To Stem Skyrocketing Prices in Sacramento

Thursday, April 5, 2018
Michael Mott
Sacramento News and Review

For Fernando Nadal, the fight to bring rent control to Sacramento is personal. The retired nurse says he and his wife were evicted from their retirement community by a property manager who, among other things, claimed that a small gathering of acquaintances and journalists to discuss his son’s fatal drug overdose constituted having “a party” inside his rental unit. When Nadal received a 60-day eviction notice last year, he filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which sided with the property manager. Nadal says he and his wife were able to find a new place one day before their eviction last March, but are paying more and are in a less safe neighborhood.

“There’s gunshots and home invasions around here. I still count my blessings,” Nadal said. “I won’t talk down my blessings.” Now, Nadal is being trained as an organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, or ACCE, a social justice nonprofit that works with low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. Nadal also spoke at a March 22 press conference announcing the signature drive to bring rent control to the city of Sacramento, which has suffered some of the highest year-to-year rent increases in the nation. Tenants, community groups and advocates for the disabled pleaded for a year with the Sacramento City Council for action on the housing crisis.

With the City Council reluctant to enact rent stabilization, tenants rights’ advocates—aided by a populist groundswell for price controls—are bypassing politicians to make their case to the voters. The initiative they want to place on the November ballot would restrict rent increases in the city to a yearly percentage tied to the consumer price index; prevent tenants from being evicted without cause; establish an elected rental board; and exempt small landlords with secondary rental units. Powerful lobbying interests are already lining up against the package. The California Apartment Association, which reportedly spent large sums of money in failed attempts to defeat rent control in Richmond and Mountain View, is actively moving against Sacramento’s proposal. “Rent control is the wrong solution to our shortage of affordable housing in the region,” association vice president Jim Lofgren said in a written statement.

“We need to attract more investment in housing, and rent control only scares it away. It’s counterproductive.” Another critic, Region Business CEO Joshua Wood, said that the new rental board the measure aims to create would have “unchecked power and the ability to artificially stymie the rental housing market with new regulations.” According to the language of the ballot measure, the board would be tasked with holding public hearings and meting out enforcement for noncompliance. It would be comprised of local residents elected to four-year terms.

Sacramento’s ballot measure comes on the heels of Richmond and Mountain View voters successfully bypassing their own city councils to cap escalating rent prices. In the case of Sacramento, advocates must secure 50,000 signatures by September 4 to qualify for the November ballot. That goal was announced at the March 22 event at which Nadal spoke. Looking on was Quiana Harkless, a single mother of five who’s lived in the city for 20 years. She was recently served an eviction notice, but managed to defeat it by taking her property manager to court.

That’s not the way it goes for most people facing the streets. In January, an SN&R analysis of court records found that tens of thousands of Sacramento County residents had been forcibly evicted in the past three years, but those numbers only count the small percentage who fight their landlords in legal proceedings. Harkless told SN&R that she has no idea where her family would have gone if the hearing hadn’t resulted in her favor. “I can’t go anywhere,” Harkless said. “So, to just put me out … it’s not OK for people to do that.”

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