Tenant Protections Stall Again

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Samantha Weigel
San Mateo Daily Journal

The San Mateo City Council were again unable to achieve consensus and did not adopt tenant protection measures for residents struggling to stay in their homes after dozens of property owners spoke in opposition of a relocation assistance program they compared to rent control.

A tenants’ group opted not to come to Monday night’s meeting having vowed to place rent control in the city on the November ballot and the City Council seemed willing to let it go to the voters after failing for the second week to reach a consensus on how to address the impacts on renters.

The special meeting was a carryover from a week earlier when the council reviewed a report from its housing task force — an appointed group made up of renters, faith leaders and real estate lobbyists. The report highlighted how the jobs to housing imbalance has led to few being able to buy in San Mateo while rents have increased more than 40 percent over the last four years.

The meeting packed with landlords, ended with many walking out as Deputy Mayor David Lim played a recorded voicemail in which a renter and former San Mateo resident cried while expressing her struggles.

Lim and Councilman Rick Bonilla, who supported last week’s unsuccessful temporary 90-day just cause eviction and rent control ordinance, opposed the relocation assistance program. A formal vote was never taken but none agreed to support the measure as is and did not to give staff formal direction on how to proceed.

“I’m disappointed. I think the process isn’t working well, I think this is a very divisive issue. Quite frankly I don’t know where we want to go. I think maybe putting it on the ballot is a good idea, because we can’t reach a consensus,” Lim said, noting Oakland passed a moratorium on rent increases last week. “But we can’t ignore the issue and it’s a regional issue.”

While nearly all agreed promoting new construction is key to addressing the affordable housing crisis, the council did not pass emergency measures that would have immediately instituted rent control, just cause eviction ordinances or relocation assistance.

San Mateo’s robust relocation assistance proposal would have required landlords to pay tenants six months worth of the area’s median rent for a similar size unit if they evicted tenants without just cause or give steep rent increases of 10 percent or more. The city attorney said the measure was not an explicit form of rent control as defined by state law and could be applied to single-family homes as well as condominiums if the council had so chosen.

But after taking hours of public comment, the council ultimately decided not to proceed with the temporary measure that was proposed as a way to prevent those from preemptively raising rents while the council considered longer-term solutions.

Councilmembers expressed concern the ordinance was too broad as proposed and no one motioned a vote before the meeting was suddenly cut short as landlords proceeded to walk out.

Unlike the meeting a week earlier wherein hundreds flooded City Hall with those both opposing and supporting tenant protection measures well represented, Monday’s meeting was largely dominated by landlords or real estate representatives.

“This proposal takes from one group and gives to another; taking rights from one group and giving it to another. Those who lose rights will be forced to litigate this in court. It does nothing to alleviate the problem. It is poor public policy and I urge you to reject it,” said Richard Delaney, who manages properties in San Mateo.

Judy De Alba and other landlords questioned the necessity of tenant protection measures arguing “this is a sledge hammer approach to a temporary crisis.”

Others threatened to immediately raise rents if tenant protections were enacted.

Newly elected Councilwoman Diane Papan along with Councilwoman Maureen Freschet staunchly opposed rent control. Papan voted in favor last week of the relocation assistance program arguing it was less onerous than rent control. But changed her mind Monday noting the proposed ordinance was too broad and said she was disappointed tenants were not at the meeting.

Tenant advocates who recently submitted language for a ballot initiative to institute rent control and just cause eviction, announced shortly before the meeting they would not be attending.

“Over the past 18 months, we have been to more than a dozen city meetings, have participated in the city’s task force, have shared painful, personal stories, and have watched hundreds of families and seniors in our community be displaced while the council deliberated what action to take,” according to a letter written by Reyna Gonzalez on behalf of the group Faith in Action. “We are tired of witnessing how the voices of special interests seem to continually outweigh the voices of residents. We are choosing not to attend tonight’s meeting because it is clear that the council will not take action to address this crisis in a meaningful way”

Bonilla suggested the city consider placing the tenant’s proposed measure on the ballot, eliminating the need for them to gather thousands of signatures. But the meeting ended abruptly as the contentious and sensitive issue rattled the council.

Mayor Joe Goethals originally proposed the relocation assistance program as a chance to avoid rent control but ideally have landlords think twice before evicting good tenants. He emphasized the city would continue to agreed upon means to address the housing crisis such as looking at lifting height limits and density restrictions, easing approval for secondary units, discussing workforce housing on city-owned lots and even considering a minimum wage increase.

Still, Goethals said he’d hoped the council could come to an agreement on a means to provide immediate protections for renters.

“This last tenant assistance program is something I looked to as a possible solution because I do not agree with rent control,” Goethals said. It “tries to give some assistance to people who get evicted in this type of housing market. For that reason, I wanted to move forward and try to work out things the task force could not.”

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