TOM BUTT E-FORUM: The Drumbeat for Rent Control in Richmond


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Below is a “Guest Commentary” published in the Contra Costa Times that is part of the growing drumbeat to bring to Richmond the most rigorous and egregious rent control scheme in California, if not the entire U.S., to Richmond. In its latest draft, the proposed Richmond ordinance would, for example, make the Richmond City Council the Rent Control Board with the authority to send landlords to jail for up to six months.

You have to wonder why is all this happening in Richmond, the city with the lowest rents in the inner Bay Area. A self-selected group of neo-socialists, led by ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment), the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, and others have selected Richmond as the beachhead in a war to reform society, not by harnessing the power of the economy and the innate desire of most people to improve their community but by the power of government to impose solutions that have never been proven to work and to decide who pays for them and how much.

Why all this focus on Richmond? Why don’t we find the yellow-T-shirted ACCE hordes in El Cerrito, San Pablo, Hercules, Pinole, Albany, Vallejo, Orinda, Walnut Creek, or a hundred other cities that have higher rents and much less aggressive and welcoming policies about new housing development, especially affordable housing? The answer is simple; Richmond’s City Council majority in uniquely configured politically to be receptive. The need is no greater in Richmond, and possibly not as great, but the politics are riper.

Cecilia Cissell Lucas quotes Article 25 of The Yogyakarta Principles that declare housing as part of the "human right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being”  including "everyone has the right to adequate housing, including protection from eviction, without discrimination" and that "States shall take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure security of tenure and access to affordable, habitable, accessible, culturally appropriate and safe housing."

Note that the quoted source says, “states,” not “landlords,” although it is landlords that Lucas and rent control advocates believe should pay for affordable housing. Not taxpayers in general, not international corporations, not Wall Street, not the Fortune 500, all of whom can afford it, but Lucas wants landlords to shoulder the entire burden, including ponying up the fees to administer and enforce it. Oh, and the proposed Richmond ordinance would not allow landlords to pass on those administrative and enforcement fees to tenants. The proposed Richmond ordinance is as much about punishing landlords for being landlords as it is about rent control.

This is not about whether we agree with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it’s about how we are going to do it and who is going to pay for it.

I think most of us agree on the idea that adequate housing for people at all income levels is critical characteristic of a successful community. More than 15 years ago, long before it addressed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the City Council adopted The Ahwahnee Principles, which include, “A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.” This policy has been incorporated into the General Plan 2030, including the Housing Element Update 2015-2023, and because of it, Richmond has the most aggressive growth-inducing policies in its general plan than probably any city in the Bay Area.

Rent Control advocates, including the author of the Contra Costa Times piece, Lucas, concede that rent control is not a panacea. She wrote, “Rent control and just-cause evictions will not be the magic wand that solves all our affordable housing needs. In Richmond, it would affect 40 percent of rental units.”

She drives her point home with the evocative statement, “To dismiss the significance of that is like saying it is not worth rescuing anyone from a burning building if you can't rescue every single person.” What the rent control advocates aren’t telling us is that the 40 percent estimate, which some experts even question as being too high, is at best a one-time high-water mark that continues to diminish year after year as the typically highly transient rental population moves around. Each time there is a vacancy, the landlord can reset the rental value as high as the market allows, and rent control will provide a powerful incentive to do so. That is what has happened in the legacy rent controlled cities of Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco.

In fact, just the specter of rent control is motivating landlords to boost rents while they can. In a curious exercise in circular logic, rent control advocates are blaming such rental increases as evidence that rent control is needed. This is like setting fires to show we need a larger fire department.

Maybe a better way of putting it would be, “Would you recue 40 percent of people from a burning building if you knew that the proportion of people you could rescue in the future from burning buildings would continue to diminish substantially?” This is, of course, a classical moral dilemma, but it makes you think about whether or not there would be a better way, like focusing on preventing fires rather than rescuing people.

To use another analogy, suppose we have a food shortage that is driving up food prices. We could implement price controls to provide immediate relief but giving farmers even less incentive to expand production, or we could get smart and use technology to increase yields, get more efficient use of scare water supplies, switch to more drought resistant crops, improve the distribution network, encourage urban agriculture and use education incentives to increase the number of students studying agriculture and taking up farming. If Lucas were in charge, however, she would impose price controls, make the farmers pay for enforcement and send them to jail if they make a mistake.

When vacancies occur, landlords, will not just maximize rental rates; they will select only the most creditworthy tenants with the best references, marginalizing others who may have greater needs. Experience in other cities show that rent control results in landlords delaying or foregoing maintenance and improvements, wary of having to face an unfriendly rent control board to try and explain why a rental increase is needed to cover such expenditures.

Far from ignoring the challenge of providing affordable housing, Richmond is aggressively seeking to increase the supply. Just a few weeks ago, Richmond was awarded $5.1 million from the California Strategic Growth Council for the Miraflores Senior Housing Project sponsored by Eden Housing, Inc. The project, located in the Park Plaza neighborhood of the City of Richmond, will create 80 service-enhanced homes affordable to the lowest income seniors. The project is located in proximity to convenient bus lines that run along Macdonald Avenue and Cutting Boulevard to the Del Norte Shopping center (which includes grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, banks) as well as the Del Norte BART station. It will include a large greenway adjacent to I-80 and the restoration and daylighting of Baxter Creek.

Richmond may soon also  receive assistance from federal experts to tackle the city’s lack of affordable housing. Our city is a finalist in the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative, which aims to spark economic development in cities around the country through guidance from federal experts. If we are successful, I intend to focus on using these resources to help find ways to create more affordable housing.

And on July 28, 2025, we will be bringing to the City Council a study session on creating affordable housing, featuring some of the Bay Area’s top experts.

What is happening here is that we all agree on a need, but some want to use punitive methods that have been proven ineffective while others of us want to provide incentives and policies to encourage the marketplace to step up and fill the need.

Tom Butt, Mayor of Richmond, CA


Guest commentary: Rent control with just cause evictions is a human right

By Cecilia Cissell Lucas, guest commentary © 2015 Bay Area News Group

Posted: 07/11/15, 12:01 PM PDT | Updated: 5 hrs ago

On July 21, Richmond City Council members will vote on whether they agree with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 25 declares housing as part of the "human right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself [sic] and of his [sic] family." The Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law say that "everyone has the right to adequate housing, including protection from eviction, without discrimination" and that "States shall take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure security of tenure and access to affordable, habitable, accessible, culturally appropriate and safe housing."

In the Bay Area, where the market price of housing is above what many residents can afford, believing that housing is a human right requires supporting rent control with just-cause evictions. Otherwise, the epidemic of displacement will continue.

At the June 23 Richmond City Council meeting, Mayor Tom Butt argued that Richmond already has the lowest rents in the Bay Area, and he pointed to mass displacement in San Francisco and Oakland -- which have rent control and just-cause evictions -- as proof that such policies do not work.

However, just because rents in Richmond are (currently) lower than in other Bay Area cities does not make Richmond affordable; it only makes it less egregious than other places.

Furthermore, residents in Oakland and San Francisco are not displaced because of rent control and just cause evictions. They are displaced because that policy alone is insufficient to fully address the issue.

Unfortunately, the Costa-Hawkins Act limits the scope of rent control in California to buildings with two or more units that were built before 1995, and allows landlords to raise the rent however much they want whenever tenants move out.

This is why it is essential to have just-cause evictions along with rent control. However, even with that protection, in a market such as the Bay Area, landlords have an incentive to find ways to get rid of long-term tenants. Ellis Act evictions are a notorious example of this. But without rent control and just-cause evictions, the situations in San Francisco and Oakland would be far worse than they already are.

Rent control and just-cause evictions will not be the magic wand that solves all our affordable housing needs. In Richmond, it would affect 40 percent of rental units. To dismiss the significance of that is like saying it is not worth rescuing anyone from a burning building if you can't rescue every single person.

Yes, we also need to be building new affordable housing, as Butt argued. But we need to be doing that in addition to passing rent control and just-cause evictions policy. Furthermore, for such constructions to remain affordable, we will need to create new policies that extend these protections to newer units, which are exempt under current law.

Meanwhile, it is in our power to offer stability to 40 percent of hardworking Richmond renters. Some have proposed a compromise that would exempt buildings with five or fewer properties. But every exemption puts more families at risk. Let's not compromise on people's human rights.

The implementation of this policy would cost landlords $20 per month per unit. Enabling families to stay in their homes and communities, and to not face the many documented financial and health repercussions that result from displacement (which ultimately affect all taxpayers) is worth $20 per month.

Not all landlords are profitmongers, and many have expressed support for this policy.

If you agree that housing is a human right, please write council members before the July 21 vote to express support for the strongest possible rent control with just-cause evictions policy.

Council members Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez and Gayle McLaughlin are already in support. We need to convince Butt (tom.butt@intres.com) and council members Vinay Pimple (vinay_pimple@ci.richmond.ca.us) and Nathaniel Bates (natbates@comcast.net). Vice Mayor Jael Myrick (jael_myrich@ci.richmond.ca.us) might advocate for exempting buildings with five or fewer units, which would result in more families left at risk; if he can be persuaded to support the stronger policy, we could pass this by August, greatly increasing the security of our community.

Cecilia Cissell Lucas is a Richmond resident and faculty in the Global Poverty and Practice program at UC Berkeley.

 

Reposted from Mayor Tom Butt's E-Forum

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  • commented 2015-07-12 22:24:47 -0700
    I do not know who Cecilia Lucas is, but if she is supporting the efforts of McLaughlin, Beckles, Martinez, and Myrick, add her to the loony car. All their efforts are currently doing is fast tracking gentrification. Screaming fire in a crowded room incites panic and rent control will not fix the problem, more affordable housing will. Do some homework. Renting is a state of temporary, so at best it a temporary dwelling that someone may call home. Articles 25 refers to states, Richmond is not a state..

    Furthermore, as a lifelong resident of this city, I don’t appreciate her trying to use us as a case study or project. Get a life.

    Also for Gayle McLaughlin to threaten landlords and all property owners (all property owners have the potential to be landlords) with jail time and a fine is ludicrous. because the Counsel’s name would be at the top of the list. The Council is the worse landlord (or should I say slumlord) in the entire city, keep in mind you are over the Housing of Authority which is under investigation, by right. The mess you have created with the housing authority should be a crime and qualify for jail time.

    So to those so concerned about housing in Richmond, why don’t you build some affordable units and charge what you like. If you can’t build housing, stop with the rhetoric.
  • commented 2015-07-12 20:49:10 -0700
    I am a resident and landlord in the city of Richmond since the 1980`s. The majority of my properties are section 8. I have not raise the rents in 7 years. How ever if Richmond enacts rent control I will sell my properties. I will purchase in a city outside the West Contra Costa school area so as not to incur the extreme costs of bonds that property owners in West Contra Costa have to pay. There will then be some of the poorest of the poor displaced. I know several small landlords such as my self who also will do the same. These landlords are teachers, plumbers, school teachers and retail clerks. Not the perceived rich landlords . Then where will the poor in Richmond live? For every action there is a reaction. For every extreme action there is an extreme reaction.
    I am currently in the process of raising rents to my tenants as a result of a possibility of rent control.
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