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Santa Cruz City Council to Consider Rent Control
by Steve Pleich (spleich [at] gmail.com)
Tuesday Dec 5th, 2017 1:31 PM
Rent Freeze Also Deserves Serious Consideration
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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 both freeze and 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 ourselves 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 marginalizing our resident workforce. To this end, the present initiative being undertaken by members of our City Council to fashion creative relief for renters should be both noted and supported.

In June of this year, New York City initiated a Rent Freeze Program which effectively stemmed the tide of rising rents for qualified renters. Under that program, Seniors and People with Disabilities could qualify to have their rents frozen if they were 62 years or older (18 years old if disabled); had a household income of $50,000 or less; lived in a rent regulated apartment; and spent more than 1/3 of income on rent. Considering the strength of the real property/landlord lobby in Santa Cruz, any form of rent freeze would almost certainly be challenged in court. However, it is notable that the NYC program has successfully withstood court challenge and continues to provide relief to qualifying renters. Also notable is the current rent control program in San Francisco which limits the Annual Allowable Rent increase between March 1, 2017 – February 28, 2018 to 2.2%. Although it stops short of freezing rents, it does effectively “chill” disproportionate rises in price.

[Update: The rent freeze proposal has been pulled from the December 5, 2017 Council session (its final session of the year) on advice of the City Attorney.]

Although certain of NYC rent freeze criteria would not apply to renters in Santa Cruz, i.e., occupying a rent stabilized apartment, the basic criteria related to disability, age and income level can be useful as touchstones in developing a working ordinance that would impose a rent freeze on a significant number of units in Santa Cruz. Our rental and income demographics bear out the need for rent stabilization and rent control and/or rent freeze:

• Our current housing stock consists of 23,499 units, the majority of those being built between 1960 and 1980;
• Between 2000 and 2010 1,812 new units were added, primarily single-family homes;
• The majority (57%) of those living in Santa Cruz are renters and the average household size is 2.5 people;
• The median rent for all unit types is $3,241;
• 53% of the university’s 17,335 student enrollment live on campus;
• The median income for one person in Santa Cruz $60,900;
• “Low income” qualification is set at 80% of that amount or $48,720.

Add to these figures the fact that 21% of our City residents are 55 or older and the case for rent freeze and rent control becomes even more compelling. Our rents continue to increase at a rate of more than 6% per year with no end in sight and yet the competition for available units at any price is nothing short of fierce. Young professionals compete with working class individuals and families who compete with Section 8 voucher holders who compete with students. A rent freeze ordinance based upon age, disability and/or income level can and will provide relief to current renters and hope to working men and women and young professionals who want to make Santa Cruz their home and contribute to our local economy, as well as our local culture and diversity.

But perhaps most importantly, we must redefine our community’s relationship with renters. Protecting the rights of renters through legal advocacy and the establishment of a Rent Board are necessary foundational steps to real and lasting rent relief. Supporting the near-term efforts of our City Council will yield the long-term relief we need. Our life as a rich, vibrant and homegrown community may well depend it.
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Sort of a slanted opineIMOWednesday Dec 6th, 2017 5:02 PM