Many of the speakers who lined up to speak at the Oakland City Council Tuesday night reminded the audience and council that passing a temporary moratorium on rent increases and evictions would only be a first step.
The City Council now has 90 days to come up with comprehensive legislation that will mitigate Oakland’s housing crisis and severely lessen the level of displacement that is pulling communities apart.
“The goal on everybody’s mind should be to get a handle on the city’s runaway evictions and displacement,” said James Vann of the Post Salon Community Assembly.
A necessary next step for the city is to set up a “feedback mechanism for how the community can participate in this process,” said Vann.
“While city staff is hammering out policies during the moratorium, there should be a stakeholder committee working with the city,” he said.
Council Votes Down Key Rent Protection Vote
One of the key measures being proposed is the Protect Oakland Tenants Initiative, which would limit rent increases to five percent per year and strengthen the existing Rent Board by adding more tenant representatives.
Increasing tenant representation on the Rent Board would more fairly reflect Oakland’s population, which is made up of 59 percent renters and 41 percent homeowners.
Speakers on Tuesday evening asked council members to put the measure on their April 19 meeting agenda in order to to directly place the tenant initiative on the November ballot – bypassing the need to collect signatures.
But at Thursday’s Rules and Legislation Committee meeting, council members voted instead to schedule the rent initiative for the Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee on May 24, which will decide whether it will go to the full council for a vote.
As a result of this change, the rent protection law is unlikely to come to the full council before June, which is the deadline for turning in signatures to go on the ballot.
For housing rights activists, rescheduling the decision goes against the urgency that was intended when the housing state of emergency was passed.
“It’s a disappointment. They have been presented with a strong measure from the grassroots, and the council is taking the long way around to listen to it,” said Camilo Zamora of Causa Justa: Just Cause, which sits on the Committee to Protect Oakland Renters.
“Council trusted Oakland residents to elect them but don’t trust (residents) when they present a measure (to the council),” said Zamora.
According to Vann, a tenants’ rights advocate, the city’s current landlord-written rent law is in large part responsible for the local housing and displacement crisis.
Funding to Enforce Existing Rent Protection Law
Meanwhile, some council members are pushing the city administration to release funding, which the council approved last year for the enforcement of the city’s Just Cause for Eviction law.
Without the funds, most tenants do not know their rights to protection against landlord abuse, illegal rent increases or unjust evictions.
“We need to be taking serious action to protect Oakland tenants, and if we do not educate the public about the laws and enforce them, many will continue to suffer needlessly,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who has been pushing for the City Administration to release the funds.
“Going to the legal system is not enough for tenants because it’s not set up to protect renters, especially (speakers) of other languages,” said Zamora. “Having a funded department within the city to be responsible for supporting its residents is extremely necessary.”
Voter Registration Drive
Looking to the November elections, Post publisher Paul Cobb is calling on churches, neighborhood organizations and individuals to participate in a city and countywide voter registration drive to register 10,000 people to vote over the next 90 days.
Cobb was appointed chair of the John George Democratic Club’s Voter Registration Committee and will be meeting with non-profit organizations and churches to help register tenants throughout the city.
“We need to have enough eligible voters on the ground to put sanctions to threaten the eviction of the city council members who do not pass legislation to protect Oakland’s tenants,” said Cobb.
“There is also a housing bond measure that people are trying to get on the November ballot for Alameda County that would create a source of funds that could remedy evictions and would be used as construction money for affordable housing,” he said.
The Post and the John George Democratic Club will be hosting an organizing event in the coming weeks for those interested in participating in the upcoming voter registration drive. For more information, contact the Post at (510) 287-8200.
Tackling State Costa-Hawkins Act
On the state level, one of the largest obstacles to tenant protections is California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which exempts properties built after 1983 from local rent caps or Just Cause eviction protections.
In Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilmembers Kaplan and Dan Kalb agreed that the state law should be changed.
“We have to close the loopholes in tenant protection laws which exempt newer buildings, and thus deprive thousands of tenants from protections,” said Kaplan. “One of the actions we must continue to work on is to end the state exemption for newer buildings from rent protections.”
“Closing the loophole for ‘just cause for eviction’ requires a vote on a ballot measure by the people of Oakland, and we should work to put this on the ballot during the next election cycle,” said Kaplan.