Action needed on unaffordable rents

Because the rent in Butte County is too high

The author works in property maintenance and is a community organizer with the Chico Democratic Socialists of America.

Everyone knows the rent is too high, but only the staunchest propertied interests deny this is a profound moral problem. Paradise burns down, so now you owe your landlord more.

Where the self-styled “housing providers” win us over is in the cold-blooded compulsion. In other words, it’s an economic problem. We get investment in luxury suites and fancy remodels, they tell us, or we get no investment at all. We pay the post-fire rent hike or we get no home at all.

The idea of a public alternative—housing that puts provision over profits—is either plainly unfamiliar to or dogmatically opposed by our local political establishment. Instead, they puzzle over how to get self-interested financiers to make Chico affordable for us.

In that vein, the city held an affordable housing conference back in September. One of their keynote speakers, the owner of the firm developing Meriam Park, closed confessing that, regrettably, he had no solutions that would “pencil out.” His two-bedroom apartments start at $1,550 a month.

Butte County already had the most extreme rent burden in California before the fire. Since then, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “fair market rents”—which represent median rents in particular area—have increased well beyond the 10 percent limit set by the city’s price-gouging prohibition because new developments like these are designed to extract the highest rents any local jobs can support.

In the long run for Chico’s economy, this just doesn’t pencil out.

Take Second and Main streets. All four corners were concurrently sitting vacant last year. Some blame the presence of homeless people, yet behind much of homelessness are local landlords setting the rent too high for Supplemental Security Income checks, and too high for modest working people, so we don’t shop downtown and rarely eat out. These levels are too high for even Chico’s affluent business class to make full use of our historic buildings.

Our housing crisis is their hot market. A decline in rents isn’t in their interest, nor is it their intention. For that we would need public controls and alternatives—but for now, it looks like we can’t even get basic tenant protections.