Renters' Rights, Landlord Responsibilities Core of Oakland's Measure JJ

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Mary Newman
Oakland North (SF Gate)

Tenant rights advocates in Oakland have joined in a nationwide campaign for affordable housing that would toughen rent controls in Oakland.

Promoting Measure JJ on the November city ballot, Oakland demonstrators converged on City Hall as part of a national “Renter’s Day of Action” on September 22. The demonstrators said the city’s character was at stake. They held banners and chanted slogans proclaiming housing as a “human right.”

“Oakland is a melting pot, but it won’t be if rent keeps rising,” lifelong Oakland resident Zane Burton said.

Rents in Oakland increased 34 percent between 2011 and 2015, making Oakland the fourth most expensive housing market in the country, according to an estimate from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

Measure JJ would limit the ability of property owners to increase rents more than inflation without approval from the city rent board. It also would require the city to mail out an annual notice about the Oakland rent-adjustment process, including information on rental disputes, rent increases and evictions.

Landlords are responsible for distributing such material now, but critics say very few renters ever receive the information they need. The ballot measure also would require property owners to submit annual reports to the city council listing all rent increases and eviction notices.

Landlords oppose the measure, suggesting they are being demonized for a problem with deeper roots.

Doug Smith, president of a property-owning company called Fuller Enterprises, said large technology companies help push property values higher in the Bay Area and should take more responsibility to keep rents affordable.

He serves as a board member of the Southern Alameda County Rental Housing Association and oversees dozens of rental disputes each year. Smith said more rent control isn’t the answer, arguing that controls wind up benefiting some individuals making six-figure incomes.

“As landlords we’re not these big, evil, greedy, bad guys,” he said. “But if they are going to claim housing in a human right it becomes a social issue. The responsibility should not fall completely on property owners. Everyone should be required to help.”

At last week’s demonstration, demonstrators told stories about losing their homes without knowing what laws might have protected them. Organizers Camilo Sol Zamora and Alma Blackwell said they want to bring more attention to the housing crisis in Oakland.

“We wanted to connect the local struggle here for renter rights and the housing crisis to the national level,” Zamora said. “Oakland and the Bay area is not the only region suffering from a housing crisis.”

Allies include the Alameda Labor Council, an organization of labor unions representing about 100,000 workers in Alameda County. Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer, said the November ballot measure addresses a critical problem for working families.

“A lot of our community is being displaced,” Camacho said. “Family, friends, union members. So many people that work in Oakland cannot afford to live here.”

She said the labor council also supports Measure A1, which would a $580 million bond to build more affordable housing.

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