RICHMOND -- It appears Richmond won't be joining the list of Bay Area cities that have enacted rent control after the swing City Council vote said Friday he would not support the proposal unless significant changes are made.
For at least six months, the city has been embroiled in a battle over rent control, which would cap rent increases to the Consumer Price Index. The council -- which is split on the issue -- is scheduled to vote on the topic Tuesday. The decision would impact an estimated 9,000 units in the city.
"There are concerns about whether this can be done without impacting the general fund and could give the city a series of operational challenges," said Councilman Jael Myrick.
If implemented, a rent control program would require hiring 10 or 11 new staff and cost upward of $2 million, most of which would be covered by fees from landlords. But opponents worry about potential costs to the city, as well as legal challenges by landlords and their powerful lobby.
Another concern is that the plan calls on the City Council to serve as the rent control board until a permanent one is created, a decision Myrick said "could create serious potential problems."
However, he was also quick to stress that rising rents, which have climbed an estimated 28 percent over the past five years in Richmond, should not be ignored.
"It would be dispassionate to just say, 'Let the market handle it,' but it's also irresponsible to say that there is only one solution to the problem," Myrick said.
In April, Myrick asked the council to pass a 45-day moratorium on rent increases and evictions. The emergency moratorium did not garner the six needed votes. Now, Myrick said he supports the so-called "Option C," which would create a mediation board and rent review program that would serve as a forum for rent disputes.
Mayor Tom Butt, along with Councilmen Nat Bates and Vinay Pimplé, have spoken out against a rent control ordinance, arguing that it depresses property values and lowers the quality of rental housing stock without benefiting all tenants. If a policy were enacted, it would exempt all properties built in 1995 or later, single-family homes and buildings overseen by the Richmond Housing Authority.
Councilwoman and former mayor Gayle McLaughlin, along with Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles and Councilman Eduardo Martinez, support rent control as a way to prevent the displacement of low-income residents. They are all members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
"Many cities have rent control ordinances and they have stood the test of time in terms of legal challenges," McLaughlin said Friday. "We are utilizing best practices from other cities and making sure our ordinance is legally defensible."
Currently, seven Bay Area cities have rent control ordinances, although they vary in scope. San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and East Palo Alto sharply limit rent increases and forbid evictions without just cause. Hayward and Los Gatos limit rent increases to 5 percent per year, and San Jose, which lacks eviction protections, prohibits annual rent increases above 8 percent.
Tuesday's meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Services Building, 440 Civic Center Plaza.