Dueling on rent control

Steinberg’s plan would temporarily reign in rent increases on older buildings and discourage frivolous evictions

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the September 13, 2018, issue.

Shawna Thrower-Low raised five children in Del Paso Heights. Now young adults, some of those children are struggling to make it in the neighborhood.

“My younger sons are 21- and 22-years-old, they can’t afford to live on their own,” Thrower-Low said. “Where it used to be $900 for a two bedroom apartment, it’s now hard to find a single bedroom for that price.”

Thrower-Low, who’s recently seen the rent of her Elk Grove home jump by nearly 40 percent, said something needs to be done. What that something should be is being debated in the city of Sacramento.

On September 4, at the second of three housing workshops, Mayor Darrell Steinberg outlined a temporary rent stabilization strategy, while three fellow council members presented a watered-down alternative in front of a capacity crowd.

Steinberg proposes capping annual rent increases to 5 percent on units built before 1999 and implementing an informed notice requirement to “reduce unnecessary evictions,” it said on his blog. Steinberg’s program would sunset three years after implementation, as he does not believe rent control is a long-term solution for the city.

Councilmen Eric Guerra, Rick Jennings and Steve Hansen presented a competing proposal supported by Citizens for Affordable Housing, a coalition funded by the California Association of Realtors, Region Business and California Apartment Association. The proposal provides no guaranteed rent caps. Instead, it would allow for a nonmandatory mediation process for renters whose rents increase more than 6 percent in a year.

Double-digit rent increases have actually cooled. Rent in the city rose 2.5 percent this past year, compared to 1.4 percent for California as a whole, according to Apartment List. Local renters have been particularly burdened by rising housing costs. According to the American Community Survey’s 2012-2016 estimate, over half of Sacramento renters are paying more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.

Neither the business community nor rent control advocates endorsed each other’s plan. Michelle Pariset, a local housing advocate and co-author of a citywide rent control measure attempting to qualify for the 2020 ballot, wanted to see more support for the mayor.

“It’s unfortunate that our City Council can’t support the Mayor in his attempt to help renters,” Pariset said in a written statement to SN&R. “It appears that Councilmembers are more interested in appeasing a small handful of their campaign contributors—realtors, the CA Apartment Association, and developers—than they are in protecting renters, who make up more than half of this city. Thankfully, voters will have an opportunity to choose a real solution in 2020.”

The Sacramento Renter Protection And Community Stabilization Charter Amendment, which was submitted by Pariset and other rent control advocates on August 30, would require just-cause evictions, restrict rent hikes to once per year based on inflation, and establish a Rental Housing Board to oversee renter-landlord relations and set rental rates.

Citing his experience with low-income communities in the region, Jefferson McGee, a real estate broker and property manager from Sacramento, spoke in favor of expanded renter protections.

“Most realtors and landlords just don’t understand,” McGee told SN&R. “They deal with people buying $500,000, sometimes million-dollar homes. They don’t see what’s going on on the streets where people are being evicted, rents are being raised and emotions are high. People are suffering.”

Steinberg stressed that any possible rent stabilization ordinance would have to wait until after the November midterm election. That’s when voters will decide whether to repeal Costa-Hawkins, thus loosening local governments’ ability to enact rent control.