Advocates for stronger tenant protections in Richmond received support last week when the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) decided to join their efforts. The RPA is an influential political player in the city, with members—Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez, and Gayle McLaughlin—holding three of the seven seats on the city council.
The group’s steering committee voted on Wednesday “to reaffirm and update its historical position” in support of just cause protections against eviction and a “fair rent” ordinance, said Marilyn Langlois, a coordinator with the organization. Just cause for eviction policies commonly list a set of conditions under which a tenant can be rightfully evicted, while fair rent policies, sometimes also referred to as rent control or rent stabilization, aim to limit yearly rent increases to a certain percentage.
Langlois said the RPA’s steering committee also voted to join “a growing community” of organizations advocating these issues, spearheaded by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), a non-profit community organization that recently supported Richmond tenants in a partial rent strike.
The debate on how to tackle rising rents in Richmond has gained momentum over the past months. In February, the city council, on the initiative of Vice Mayor Jael Myrick, directed the City Manager’s office to draft a just cause ordinance within 90 days, which the council would consider at a future meeting. A current city ordinance dating back to 2009 only regulates evictions for people living in foreclosed homes.
According to a presentation provided by the City Manager’s office, the staff is looking at tenant protection policies in 7 California cities—Berkeley, San Diego, East Palo Alto, San Leandro, Gardena, Santa Monica, and Glendale—in order to find an ordinance that best fits Richmond. Berkeley, East Palo Alto, and Santa Monica implemented both just cause and rent control, so both types of ordinances could be taken into consideration in the case studies. On May 26, the staff will present policy recommendations to the city council.
This is not the first time for Richmond politicians and community organizations have discussed stronger tenant protections. According to Langlois, the RPA has been a longtime proponent of just cause and fair rent ordinances in the city, and from 2003 to 2006 was a key member of a broad community coalition advocating for the issue. In early 2006, said Langlois, with Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin the only definite supporter, then-Mayor Irma Anderson set up a task force to discuss just cause and rent control. The group met for more than a year but disbanded because proponents and opponents couldn’t agree upon core issues. “At that time it didn’t go anywhere, because we simply didn’t have enough support on the city council,” said Langlois.
Today, the RPA sees a better chance to reach its goals. Since 2006, the council has become more progressive and rents are rising, said Langlois. “We are aware of a number of low income tenants that have had dramatic increases to their rents which makes it difficult for them to stay. And we want to start addressing this issue again now before it gets too much out of hand,” said Langlois. According to her, the RPA will take a look at the city staff’s recommendations “to see what is the best way we can move to get an ordinance in place that includes a rent stabilization component as soon as possible.”
Still is it not yet clear whether there will be a majority in the city council for a just cause ordinance that also includes rent control. According to earlier reports, Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmember Nat Bates generally oppose policies related to rent control and just cause. Bates did not return requests to comment for this article.
Butt said that the RPA has consistently supported rent control and a just cause ordinance, and that those policies are “retrograde approaches to trying improve people’s quality of lives.” With pushing for them, he continued, the RPA and ACCE want to “freeze things in time rather than looking at real solutions.” He said that both organizations are “obsessed” with rent control and just cause, which they believe is “the penicillin, and the solution for everything” related to rising rents.
But he believes there is proof that such policies have not worked in the past.
In an earlier interview with Richmond Confidential, Butt argued that San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, all cities that introduced rent control laws, today have rents that are among the highest in the country, and that rent control would only apply to certain tenants in Richmond, while others who are excluded could face even higher rents. He also feared that more regulation of the housing market would scare away developers and discourage the construction of new, affordable rental units.
Myrick said that he won’t support an ordinance until he has seen the details, and that he wants to develop a policy that “helps to protect tenants without the negative consequence of what we’ve seen with some rent control proposals.” According to Myrick, just cause protections are the main focus of the policy recommendations city staff are working on, but there has also been a conversation about whether rent control should be included. “We’re going to have a menu of things to try to work on and figure out what is the appropriate policy for Richmond,” said Myrick.
Councilmember Vinay Pimplé said that he has not decided yet whether he supports rent control and just cause, and that he has to do further research on the issue.
McLaughlin wrote in an email statement that she is “delighted” that the RPA voted to join a coalition supporting just cause and rent control. The city council “needs to research the type of rent stabilization program that is most appropriate for our city, but I do support a form of rent control and just cause for eviction for Richmond,” Mclaughlin wrote.
Councilmember Eduardo Martinez said that rent control is an issue that has to be dealt with locally, and that, depending on the ordinance’s language, he would most likely vote for rent control and just cause policies. “I think there is a popular support for rent control. The people who are against it are the landlords,” said Martinez.
Councilmember Jovanka Beckles did not return requests to comment on the issue.