Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 18, 2014

Think of the money we’d save on rent

Filed under: Alameda, City Council — Lauren Do @ 6:08 am

In a supremely uninspiring move the City Council voted last night to punt on the issue of housing costs (rent and supply) and send it over for a community led process.  While I like Jeff Cambra and I think he does really good work, I think this is one issue that deserved to be driven by the City itself.  But then again, had the City decided to drive the process I’m sure that there would be bones of contention as well.  Such as the make-up of the task force (guilty!) or the lack of community input or lack of ability for the community to give input.

Hopefully, regardless of the imperfect result, something good will result from this exercise which is a better understanding of the realties out there for renters and a good understanding of the supply of housing that exists.   Also, it would be nice to better understand how the regional impacts aka the lack of affordability in San Francisco affects Alameda given its proximity to San Francisco.

But it’s good time as any to point out that even as the City Council punted on the issue, it appears that the other candidates aren’t necessarily that well versed on the problem either.  Case in point, Trish Spencer who is vying for the Mayor’s job, her answer on the Alamedan’s candidate questionnaire tackling this very topic was typically Trish Spencer.  Attempt to restate the question and then fail to give an actual solution to the problem.   The answer she gave to a query about whether the City should be regulating rents, resulted in this “answer”:

Alameda has a Rent Review Advisory Committee that “reviews complaints of significant rental increases, providing a neutral forum for renters and residential property owners to present their views. It evaluates increases, determines whether they are equitable, and, if not, attempts to mediate a resolution acceptable to all parties … Regular meetings are generally held the first Monday of each month.” (See http://alamedaca.gov/city-hall/rent-review-advisory-committee)

“The Committee was formed by motion of the City Council in November 1979 upon the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Rent Evaluation Committee. The Ad Hoc Committee was formed in response to citizens’ complaints to the City Council regarding substantial rental increases. It is comprised of five volunteer members: two owners, two renters, and one homeowner … The Committee has had success in establishing communication between owner and renter, and in effecting compromises with regard to rent and maintenance. Through the voluntary cooperation of owners, the Committee has served as an effective alternative to rent control in the City of Alameda.” (See http://www.alamedahsg.org/hd_hsg_rrac.html)

A quick review of that site shows that the committee last met in July and meetings in August and September were cancelled. Thus, it appears that the complaints were resolved, and hearings weren’t required, which suggests the site’s contention that the committee has served as an effective alternative to rent control is accurate.

Another interesting observation is that there are only minutes for March and April of 2014 posted and audio of April and June posted. It’s unfortunate all minutes aren’t posted for the public’s review. Also, Renewed Hope (Alameda housing advocates) has a rent survey on its website that I’d encourage renters to complete. (See http://www.renewedhopehousing.org)

I mean, duh with the information that there current exists a Rent Advisory Board, the larger question is whether or not this body can do enough or has done enough to tackle the growing concerns that rent costs are spiraling out of control.  Half of the answer is just a cut and paste of explaining what the Rent Advisory Board is and does and then a conclusion that because complaints appear to have been resolved a problem with rising rents simply does not exist.   How can you be expected to solve the problem when you don’t even realize that a problem exists.

Anyone who points to the Rent Advisory Board’s number of meetings and says, “see there aren’t a lot of meetings and so there clearly isn’t a problem” is either being deliberately ignorant or simply not trying to make the “business community” pissy at them prior to the election.

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11 Comments

  1. We are far beyond the point at which an an easily co-opted or corrupted extra-governmental “community discussion” will do any good–it is time for the City Council and Mayor to lead, not pass the buck.

    If the City Council wants to protect the privacy of renters who want to be heard without fear of retribution from landlords–a very real concern for many of us–they can meet in closed session to hear renters’ concerns. (And so, I think, could an official city task force.)

    This decision is a clear failure to lead on the part of Mayor Gilmore and our City Council–and they should know better, having had many renters come before them in dire straits with steep rent increases and unfair evictions in recent years. In both cases, the City Council found itself powerless to prevent injustice or protect its citizens and our community from significant harm and disruption:

    1. Some 600 Alamedans–mostly poor people–lost their homes in the 2004 Harbor Isle evictions:
    http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_2594448.)

    2. In 2013, Oakland realtor Claudia Bowman and House Source LLC publicly admitted that they raised rents by up
    to 67% “to cover the costs of purchasing the property,” which is both unforgivable and egregious:
    http://thealamedan.org/news/council-members-rising-rents-could-prompt-controls.

    Rising rents–and what to do to control them–is a legitimate and proper function of local and state government when citizens are harmed by mass evictions and steep rent increases–and unchecked greed and profit-seeking causes real harm. The fact that Claudia Bowman and House Source LLC raised rents by up to 67% “to cover the costs of purchasing the property” is an affront to common decency and to the many ethical, hard-working, and committed landlords and property managers who conduct their rental businesses appropriately and don’t buy property on the backs of their renters.

    When–not if–this happens again, all the City Council and Mayor will still be powerless to act, able only to sputter in protest, having no legal basis on which to enforce what are simply standards of fairness and reasonable business practices.

    Alameda need to develop legislation to be able to enforce fair and reasonable rental practices–and to limit unfair and unreasonable ones. And we need to develop it out in the open, in the sunshine, not behind closed “star chamber” doors where those who already have money–and therefore power–can easily dominate or buy the discussion.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — September 18, 2014 @ 7:33 am

  2. Rents are set by markets, Jon, not by evil mustache-twisting landlords. The rental market is tight right now but isn’t always. Rents fell during the last downturn, and fell even harder during the dot-com bust. If tenants are protected from market forces, how will landlords be protected? Will rent control be a 2 way street, where rents cannot fall unless St. Jon the Pious blesses it?

    Comment by dave — September 18, 2014 @ 7:51 am

  3. “how will landlords be protected?” What do landlords need to be protected from? It is a free market, if you don’t like being a landlord, sell to someone who does.

    Comment by Spanky McDoogle (@SpankyMcDoogle) — September 18, 2014 @ 9:28 am

  4. Owning rental property is not simply a clinical or mechanical proposition. Like it or not, when you engage in providing shelter for people, real humans with lives, you are into a strange territory which enters the realm of morality. There are two sides to everything. Having been a landlord for a year I decided to bail because tenants were so obtuse, but in retrospect I could have hung in there. A lot of builders I know parlayed rental property and phased out of construction into managing property which is not a bad way to retire, but it’s requires a lot of tolerance. The flip side is that many landlords simply abuse the privilege, yes privilege, and use the “free market” as their only guiding compass, keeping rents as high as the market will bear. “The market” is a euphemism for their tenants wallets. It’s not like property rental biz is sacrosanct and therefore has no regulation. There is a whole branch of law dedicated to property rental. Even with those laws there is an eviction epidemic in S.F. where people who are at the mercy of the market are having their lives torn apart and it’s not some clinical abstract for them. There is a lot of greed out there and it merits discussion how to protect people who through no fault of their own must rent. Yes some landlords ARE predatory. It’s not enough to say “Hey, just don’t rent from them”. Many people on both sides of the equation regret who the have contracted with regardless of their best efforts to be prudent.

    Comment by MI — September 18, 2014 @ 9:34 am

  5. You are a Bad Man !
    That was the statement made by City Council Chen , this because that miserable landlord was raising rent on a very long time tenant which was not always on time , claiming to be on fix income but had 2 if not 3 jobs …..How many business do you actually know which will let you go by as that one did …..

    Little that Mr Chen knew some were aware of his past criminal history , as while we were all working very hard to pay our taxes He was working equally hard to defraud the State that mean You and Me.

    That bad Man has been supporting Children sport activities for ever , for some reason some believe landlord should never raise the rent and absorb all coast then come around and state the property is full of graffiti the elevators are not working there is oil in the driveway , the drain are clogged …..

    Let’s be real here , raising the rent by 67% to buy a property is not being a landlord it is nothing else but racketeering , where are the peoples calling Mom and Pop “Bad people” they should have raise the issue on a criminal level for Bowman , they did not , why not ? campaign contribution ?….
    As far as the bay isle property , is it reopen ? I believe the Co from out of town said they would take care of the tenants , if they have not why the City has not taken action , be interesting to see to who they also contributed ?

    Can we stop the hypocrisy , would you work without a raise ? that would make it harder to buy what ever your fancy choose .
    All Landlord are not Criminal , interestingly the one that really are like the dirty Dozen in San Francisco , not a single elected official iniate action .
    Why Not ????

    Comment by joel rambaud — September 18, 2014 @ 9:40 am

  6. 4

    Is a tenant who negotiates his rent lower predatory? How about a tenant who leaves for cheaper rent elsewhere? Why is a renter following a price not immoral or greedy, while an owner doing the same is?

    Comment by dave — September 18, 2014 @ 10:01 am

  7. Should grocery stores price their food lower for people who can’t afford it?
    No, we have social programs to provide for those who can’t afford food, and we have social programs for those who can’t afford housing. Monkeying with the rental free market over all is a mistake. I say this as an Alameda renter who had my rent raised more than 10% in the past year.

    Comment by ajryan — September 18, 2014 @ 10:55 am

  8. The grocery analogy is a bit erroneous. Property requires up keep but the costs are not subject to the same factors as food production ( weather, labor, fuel etc.) The thing which attracts people to property investment is the over all stability and predictable increase in value over time.

    I’m not advocating for rent control and haven’t said that, and I understand the problems for property owners in over regulating, but to just say, “Gee, that’s just the free market” and ignore the over all social dislocation which is unprecedented (historic even) is sort of remiss. At least callus. More regulation aside, this is a social issue which warrants scrutiny. We need to establish facts so it can be less of an emotional issue.

    6. You have to be kidding, but of course you are not. Land lording is maybe like patriarchy , an inherent advantage which is hard to equalize. Property owners are by definition at a power advantage. You know the one about owning the means of production etc.?? The greed factor comes into play when the market allows a landlord to increase profit at will, when the prevailing wages for the average Joe stay flat or declines. Sure we are all free to move to a more affordable location. What a privilege!

    http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-inequality-for-all/

    Comment by MI — September 18, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

  9. #8 I think the grocery store is a good analogy. It may be a social issue, but for many owners it is a business issue. Who would buy property without the intent of making money or at least covering their costs.

    There is a high demand for rentals and that is because of supply and demand, but some of the demand had to do with all the foreclosures in the last 4 or 5 years which put more people back into the rental market. If you are renting you really haven’t assume the financial liability for the property and the owners take most of the risk.

    I think if rent control were to happen, I think you would see a lot of owners selling and a lot of rentals coming off the supply. There are lawsuits currently happening in SF because of the Ellis Act evictions and outrageous relocation fees.

    Comment by Joseph — September 18, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

  10. The housing bubble in San Francisco will continue to push housing prices in places like Oakland and Alameda which means rents will also increase. https://homes.yahoo.com/blogs/spaces/san-francisco-s-smallest-apartment-174145751.html

    Comment by Mike McMahon (@MikeMcMahonAUSD) — May 9, 2015 @ 8:46 am

  11. 2, 6, 9: A properly functioning “free market” (something that does not exist in the United States, BTW–we live in a corporate-dominated oligarchy) depends on relative equality between buyers and sellers in a transaction. When all of the power is one one side of the equation/transaction, the transaction cannot be fair.

    With all of the limited housing occupied (95-97 percent of all rentals in Alameda are occupied) and all of the laws governing housing favoring landlords and property managers, it is impossible for a fairly negotiated transaction to take place. Many landlords are raising rents with impunity–and without improving their paid-for properties commensurately–simply because they can, without regard to the stability of the local schools, the community, or for their own tenants. Is that a morally justifiable act? I think not. There is such a thing as charging a fair price for one’s product, be it salami, beer, or housing. But we have no FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to regulate the runaway cost of housing in Alameda, as in many Bay Area communities.

    It may be perfectly legal to charge “whatever the market will bear” for housing–a basic human need, after all–but it is certainly legitimate to ask whether doing so *no matter what the consequences are* is in the public interest, fair, necessary, or justifiable. In fact, unchecked greed has been found to be dangerous to the health of the society at large, and governments and other authorities have imposed controls on rampant greed for millennia. (Amos 8:5 – http://biblehub.com/amos/8-5.htm)

    Comment by Jon Spangler — June 2, 2015 @ 2:55 pm


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