Priced out: Rent control becomes focus of Sacramento town hall on housing

Popular rent stabilization initiatives in Richmond and Mountain View face legal challenge, force other jurisdictions to consider idea

Sacramento may be Northern California’s next battleground for rent control.

During a town hall meeting at the Memorial Auditorium last week, a number of residents told central city Councilman Steve Hansen that the state capital needs rent stabilization before any more people are displaced by rising prices.

The stabilization movement has spawned two showdowns in the Bay Area, after voters in Richmond and Mountain View passed ballot initiatives capping year-to-year rent increases at the rate of inflation. The California Apartment Association, which represents more than 50,000 landlords, has filed lawsuits against both cities to block the laws from taking effect. The legal challenges are being reviewed.

As San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose have become some of the costliest rental markets in the United States, Sacramento has suddenly experienced its own startling escalation of prices—the nation’s second highest year-to-year increase in 2015 by one estimate, and the highest overall rent growth in 2016 by another.

Hansen told SN&R that it’s clear financial shock and awe from the Bay is cascading into Sacramento’s market, adding that elected leaders need to support the mayor in taking the problem head-on.

“We are seeing more people from the Bay Area moving in, and also hearing about some of our folks having to move down to San Joaquin,” Hansen said during a recent interview. “We have to bring together the people who care most about our housing system and want to do something about accessibility and affordability.”

To get input, Hansen held a town hall meeting with Sacramento Housing Alliance Executive Director Darryl Rutherford. More than a hundred residents looked on as Rutherford cited recent statistics indicating that 50 percent of families in Sacramento County meet the federal classification of “low-income.” According to Rutherford, this reality is reinforced by the county’s lowest-paid renters now spending 62 percent of their wages directly on rent.

Several residents who spoke at the town hall urged District 4’s councilman to consider supporting rent control. While Hansen didn’t offer a concrete position on rent stabilization, he did mention worries about possible unintended consequences.

“That would be really popular in the central city,” Hansen acknowledged of rent control. “But it might cause a lot of important building and economic activity to just move to other parts of the city where developers didn’t have to deal with it.”

That prediction didn’t go over well with downtown resident Jonah Paul, one of the speakers who addressed the town hall. Paul has been hearing more and more of his friends talk about the need for a Sacramento ballot initiative aimed at blocking excessive greed from unraveling the fabric of their community.

“Rent stabilization just means that the increases are reasonable, so landlords can still make a profit, but tenants aren’t getting gouged,” Paul told SN&R after the town hall. “There is a complicated dynamic in Sacramento between escalating prices and tenants feeling vulnerable. … What I heard at the town hall was a lot about the problems with NIMBY-ism, but it’s a little more complicated than that. We’re in a serious quagmire here.”