Rent Profiteers No Longer Welcome

Alameda’s first rent stabilization law — ordinance 3148 — passed in March 2016. It discouraged high rent increases designed to profit off under-market rents or to clear tenants for major rehabilitation by speculative new owners.

However, the yearly allowable increases of 5 percent are only advisory. Landlords must merely make a case to the Rent Review Advisory Committee (RRAC) and still do as they please. It has not solved the problem of keeping housing affordable for renters without high-tech salaries. In addition, the Alameda Renters Coalition reports that the RRAC has consistently agreed to increases in excess of 10 percent.

Even a 5 percent increase each year on one’s housing costs slowly banishes low- and middle-income renters from our town, with no regard to their historical bonds to friends, family and the community itself. If every homeowner’s mortgage increased at that rate, few would be able to stay in town either. 

It’s crucial that the Alameda City Council set a reasonable ceiling on rents at a percentage of the annual consumer price index, which usually is 2 to 3 percent. Taking a step in the right direction, the Council finally passed a just cause ordinance in April to the relief of many renters who live in fear of the 60-day notice to vacate.  

On July 2, when the council considers adding an inviolable rent cap to ordinance 3148, it will culminate five years of struggle by Alameda’s renters. Fortunately, they have been supported by an awakening citizenry who has begun to reject Alameda’s island myth as one of exclusion. They understand putting up signs of welcome requires courage and acceptance of policies that make room for people — not send them packing. 

The path to the July 2 vote has been hard. The rent crisis in Alameda began in 2013 when the mostly elderly and disabled tenants of a four-plex first came to the Council to plead their case. The Council at the time could only write a letter expressing its disdain of the new owner’s action.
Renter efforts to pass just-cause eviction and tighter controls on rent increases were blocked in 2016 in an election campaign with competing measures that confused the voters. 

Yet Alameda’s property investors were not satisfied. They feared a progressive turn in the city’s leadership and sponsored a ballot measure last year to strip the Council’s ability to strengthen the rent stabilization law by putting it in the City Charter. Alamedans rose up in November and blocked this fierce attack on the city’s political autonomy, voting down Measure K and electing Councilmembers pledged to protect their interests.

We can now expect stability and justice in Alameda. 

The final step is a rent cap that stays close to the rate of inflation and is more manageable for Alameda’s renters. It’s the only thing that’s fair and it declares there are actually some people who are no longer welcome in Alameda — profiteers.  

 

Laura Thomas is a member of the Alameda Justice Alliance.