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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Santa Cruz Indymedia | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services
Time for Serious Consideration of Rent Control Ordinance
Moving Toward Rent Control and Rent Stabilization in Santa Cruz
There has been some discussion during the current election cycle about the relative merits of considering a rent control or rent stabilization ordinance in Santa Cruz. While I generally favor the broader concept, there are many questions that need to be addressed before moving forward with even a draft ordinance. However, one fact is beyond contestation. Rising rents in our community continue to force out working men and women who have traditionally used reasonably priced rentals as a gateway to the purchase of a family home. Unless we move right now to stabilize rental prices in Santa Cruz, we will continue to lose our local workforce and the hard earned dollars they contribute to our local economy. And what is worse, we will simultaneously open up the very real possibility of becoming a "bedroom" community where higher wage workers and professionals from out of the area dominate the housing market further economically marginalizing our resident workforce.
So let's take a closer look at the basic elements which must be included in any prospective rental control or rent stabilization ordinance. Chief among these is whether or not the ordinance would be limited to units constructed before a certain time. For instance, the ordinance may provide that rental units constructed before 1980 would arguably be fully paid for and so the need to raise the rent to compensate for existing or rising mortgage payments would not be a factor. Also, in light of the fact that Santa Cruz has such a large number of mobile home rental units, it may be both fiscally wise and administratively expedient to separate the ordinance to provide subsets of regulations for mobile homes and apartment rentals. It would also be necessary to limit any rise in rent to not exceed more than once in any twelve (12) months. We must also consider whether such an ordinance would provide for exemptions such as units voluntarily vacated or vacated subject to eviction and include an overall exemption for any rental funded through a government subsidy program.
I believe it would be wise public policy to consider including greater protections for renters within the body of the ordinance. Specifying and requiring binding or non binding rental dispute mediation and/or arbitration and the clear delineation of tenants legal rights would serve to clarify and codify the respective legal positions of landlords and tenants in a way that could guarantee fundamental fairness of process. Renters must be free from retaliation or threat of lawsuits for exercising their rights under any rental agreement and the imposition of "pass through" charges must be specifically prohibited.
These are but a few of the legal, commercial and ethical questions that must be considered by our new city council and subject to discussion in an open and transparent public process. To think we know more than we do about this incredibly complex issue is a recipe for failure as a public policy and would cause the visitation of unnecessary hardship on landlord and tenant alike. I recommend that we take a good look at regional models before we take this leap that can, and will, have such a lasting and profound effect on our community.
Lastly, I will note that critics of rent control in Santa Cruz say that even the broadest version of such an ordinance will only provide relief for 20% of our rental stock. But if that's the 20% our local working men and women are trying to afford, then it matters to all of us.