I turned on the radio today, KPFA of course, in time to hear my old friend, architect and well-respected political and tenant activist, James Vann being asked by Kitty Kelly Epstein why a progressive council in a city like Oakland couldn’t seem to pass serious tenant protections. James answered, “I just don’t think we have anyone on the present city council who is progressive.”
That’s quite an indictment, especially when that little island city of retired military across the Estuary, Alameda,just passed stricter renter protections and extended a moratorium on no-cause evictions plus a cap lower than Oakland’s on rent increases.
James also stated (also embedded in his letter) that the city manager in charge of the mayor’s housing cabinet declined to even pass on the recommendations of the Renters’ Working Group to the mayor because….
I don’t think I need to add much more to this long, sad history of Oakland’s abrogration of its responsibility to its renters which is equivalent to neglect of its citizenry since the majority are tenants. What the hell is going on, Oakland??
[I have changed only typos in the following. Warning:read only with a strong drink, a good glass of wine, or your suitcase packed.]
Sordid Record of Oakland City Council on Rental and Housing Issues
I presented this letter in October to the Renter’s Working Group of the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet process:
Oakland’s current affordable housing crisis — particularly for renters — is not new, and has been acknowledged as a “crisis” by successive city councils since before the economic downturn of 2008. Events that have characterized the “crisis” over many years have at least included:
• the real estate “flipping craze” of the late 1970s that caused tenants to qualify “Measure E,” a rent control initiative that barely failed 53% to 47% in 1980, because Mayor Wilson and landlords quickly wrote the current and one-sided “Rent Arbitration Ordinance,” backed by over $20,000, and trumpeted as “Oakland-style rent control.”
• the condo conversion explosion of the 1970s, that resulted in the flawed condo conversion ordinance of 1981.
• appeals by tenants to make the “Rent Arbitration” ordinance more fair for tenants. Referred by CM Spees to a task group of tenants and landlords. No mutual decisions reached. No action by CC.
• the condo conversion rush of 2005-08. A tenant offered proposal not acted on by CC.
• appeals to end the passing to tenants of LLs (landlords’) “mortgage payments” from Rent Law (2007-08). Rent Board approved removal in 2008. Not acted on by CC until 2015.
• appeals for needed revisions of the Condominium Conversion Ordinance; a continuing request since 2006. No actions ever by CC.
• appeals for “inclusionary zoning” in 2006; No CC action on “Inclusionary Zoning” and “Condo Conversion’ proposals. Referred by CM Brooks to a Blue Ribbon Commission. CC took 8 months to appoint the Commission.
• Blue Ribbon Task Force of 2006-08. After meeting for 18 months, and presenting a report of “lukewarm” recommendations, CC took no action on the Committee’s report.
• Mayor Dellums’ comprehensive Affordable Housing Program Plan of 2008; Presented to CC in 2009. No action by CC.
• uprising by tenants in 2013 – 14 against excess pass-through of 100% capital improvements, and lack of action after 5 years on “elimination of debt service pass-through” from Rent Board. Referred by CM Reid to “landlord & tenant work group. Repeal of debt service and compromised report of work group on capital improvements accepted by CC in 2014.
• “Tenant Protection Ordinance” struggle of 2014. CC approved text in 2014, but stripped “implementation and remedies” sections from the ordinance, rendering it useless to tenants.
• revised condo conversion ordinance developed by OTU in 2008 – 10 with CM Brunner, who refused to submit to CC unless prior assurance of passage.
• Condo Conversion Ordinance refined by housing advocates in 2014-15. Resubmitted to CM Kalb in early 2015. Held Up 5 months by City Attorney’s office for legal review. Finally released by CA in Nov 2015. No action by CC in last 2 months.
• CED staff announces “crisis” in Rent Program because tenant petitions increased from 1/2% to 1% of tenants, and applied to CC for a quadruple rental fee in order to double staff capacity. Both LLs and tenants strongly disagreed, and called for audit of Rent Program’s efficiency. OTU also argued that the city’s “one of a kind” rent program is the problem; that because it is a program that is activated only by tenant petitions, and that the program relies on landlords to inform tenants of their right to file a petition against that same landlord’s exorbitant increases or other illegal action (which many LLs don’t do), that tenant petitions should actually be at least 20% of tenants, not 1%, thus as more tenants learn of their right, it is impossible that increasing staff will solve the problem. It is the program that must change. What Oakland needs is a real rent control program, rather than the present landlord designed farce.
• As an assist to the current RAP problem, OTU submitted to the Renters Work Group of the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet the draft of a “Rent Control” ordinance recommended for inclusion in recommendations of the Housing Cabinet for the mayor. Manager Byrd decided against forwarding the recommendation to the Cabinet, perhaps considered “too radical.”
• Renters Work Group urged that a “resolution of urgency” be recommended directly to Mayor (not thru the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet) for immediate submission to CC to declare a “state of emergency in rental housing and a moratorium on rent increases and no-cause evictions” (as Alameda has done) to permit time to work out the problems in the rent program. T Moss, mayor’s chief of staff, reported at next meeting of the Work Group that instead of addressing the rental crisis (even though Mayor Schaaf has stated that ending displacement of long term residents is among the highest priorities of her administration), that the mayor decided to submit to CC an “emergency resolution” only for homeless programs. No action would be taken on declaring a rental housing emergency (despite the fact that the adopted Housing Equity Roadmap found that btw 2011 & 2014, Oakland had lost over 25% of its African American population and over 14% of families with school age children)
Through all these and other recurring housing and renter problems, the common identifying characteristic has been that hearing after hearing, and proposal upon proposal, the City Council of the time has almost never taken action.
This time, something different needs to happen. All council members, on several occasions, have acknowledged that Oakland is in a severe housing crisis, particularly for the majority of Oakland’s residents — the renters of Oakland’s flatlands, here the median income for a family of four is only $34,000, not nearly enough to pay current fast rising rents in Oakland. Many of these households presently pay 60 to 80% or more of their income for rent. By 2014, the city’s housing crisis had led to a loss of 25% of Oakland’s African American population and 17% of families with school aged children as documented by the city’s adopted Housing Equity Roadmap .
Declaring a “Housing Emergency” and enacting a “Moratorium” on rent increases and no-cause evictions will go a long way toward assuring tenants that city fathers (and mothers!) are serious about the crisis and, this time, will do more than just talk. Declaring a “Housing Emergency” is also a powerful signal to the suffering community that City Hall finally hears their pleas, and establishing a moratorium timeframe expresses to the community that the city is finally committed to assure that this time, action, not just talk, will happen.
To add to this long list of inaction, Oakland is one of the only surrounding cities without developer impact fees and the city is poised to ….perhaps….maybe….enact a weakened fee, not comparable to those of other cities and which excludes 4,000 units presently in the pipeline and offers significantly lower fees in areas where the threat of gentrification is imminent.
Or it may postpone the whole thing until the building boom is over. The discussion will finally get started on January 26th at 1:30pm (is that a problem for you?)
Please, please, please, if you are a renter, know a renter, or might have a family member who would like to be a renter (rather than, you know, living with mom) let your council member know how seriously you take these issues. It truly is a State of Emergency in Oakland!