If the recent developments at the Bayview Apartments located at 470 Central Street doesn’t alert the City Council that there are serious problems with the rental housing market, then I’m not sure what will. While some folks are worried about the tiny feelings of elected officials being hurt — or perhaps their political narrative being compromised — when the actions and history of their elected officials of choice are being discussed in context with this issue. (Pro-tip: you don’t get bonus points for attempting to fix something that you screwed up in the first place.) I’m more concerned about the people and families being affected by the half measures taken by this City Council which signal to the “out-of-town” landlords or whoever we are blaming today for the rental housing crisis.
Unfortunately the first victims of the City Council’s qualified “support” are these 470 Central families that have gone through the RRAC process already, twice, in as many years. We were told by Trish “I go to every RRAC meeting” Spencer that this RRAC process works. And we were told by housing providers to continue to let the RRAC attempt to do its job even though the changes to the RRAC are largely cosmetic and the RRAC still lacks any real authority.
Here are photos snapped by reporters and advocates at the 470 Cenral press conference on Saturday:
On Tuesday’s agenda there is an item to reappoint two of the housing providers on the Rent Review Advisory Committee. Given that one of the options for the City Council from a policy standpoint is to give more power to the RRAC it’s really important to understand who the members are that are being considered for reappointment.
Particularly Mayor Trish Spencer most recent appointment of former City Council member (and former candidate for the School Board) Karin Lucas.
At the epic meeting last Wednesday night she was had this to say about any protections for renters that went beyond letting the RRAC do its business:
I do not want to see the moratorium or any rent control, I feel that would interfere with my relationship with the tenants.
Hopefully the commission will be able to rein in unreasonable landlords.
Of course “unreasonable” is entirely subjective. Given the RRAC’s penchant for okaying 10% rent increases, I’m not sure that the definition of “unreasonable” is globally accepted.
A short post today because a video is worth 1000 words. Mayor Trish Spencer went from being someone who smugly appreciated public outbursts of emotions like applause, after all that’s the way it was done when she was on the School Board. In ten short months later, she became a Mayor who suggested that she could clear the room if people dared to clap. Ten months ago she was lauded by newly appointed Rent Review Advisory Committee member Karin Lucas as a friendly mayor unlike the one who had just left and made people feel welcome and not lectured at. Only last week she became a Mayor who gave “one warning” to the already amped up renters group or she would have them removed from the chambers
So much still to talk about regarding Wednesday’s events, but the Planning Board is important too in light of the rental housing crisis and housing crisis in general in Alameda. Two housing projects are on the agenda to house populations that almost everyone will agree needs housing the most: seniors and families needing affordable housing.
This will be the second look at the old Island High property project that will bring 22 affordable housing units to the Wedge neighborhood near Park Street. The applicant is the Housing Authority of Alameda so these should be permanently affordable housing units. If approved it will be interesting to see is this project gets appealed or called for review by the City Council. The Planning Board will be making a determination on the design review and granting a density bonus for the project.
Wednesday night’s City Council meeting was a cluster of epic proportions. First, it was clear that the City Council did not realize the magnitude of the issue in front of them. Despite the number of people that had written about their rent issues and all the information and data about housing the City Council didn’t think to plan out the process of this single issue hearing a little better. Perhaps they were complacent from the last single issue special meeting about the Harbor Bay Club where everything moved along smoothly. The vast difference was that while that was emotionally charged, there is a level of desperation to the renters community after hearing story after story of evictions and rent hikes.
Add to that the stories of landlords hiring seat fillers to stack the chambers prior to the start of the meeting which left very few renters able to get access into the room to turn in their speakers slips and you pretty much have a recipe for disaster. After landlord…I mean “housing provider” after “housing provider” testified in the chambers the renters in the overflow room had enough and started protesting from the hallway, and some tried to storm the chambers. Here’s how the it looked from inside the chambers and the direction from Mayor Trish Spencer to keep the door closed, lest it disrupt the public comment.
I’m not writing about Wednesday’s meeting today, that will be for tomorrow even though there was lots of drama. For a preview check out the #alamtg twitter tag.
Tuesday’s City Council meeting had one moment that sort of defines the Trish Spencer administration. During a discussion about the legislative policy for this Council moving forward, City Council member Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft spoke about the need to get WETA (Water Emergency Transportation Agency) a seat at the table at the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Since Alameda is dependent on ferries to take a substantial number of single occupancy vehicles off the road, and out of the tubes and off the bridges it makes sense that we should be encouraging our regional Transportation Commission to be representative of all modes of transit.
Just as a refresher, Trish Spencer is the representative for Alameda to the ACTC and in the first few months of being seated indicated to an ACTC staff person that she did not want to see bus rapid transit projects in Alameda, nor did she want to see any improvements to the Broadway/Jackson intersection. She was also the sole vote at ACTC against supporting a bill to make it easier to fund transportation infrastructure projects. She also gets paid $225 per meeting, plus $25 travel stipend to attend these ACTC meetings. With those data points refreshed, let’s get to it.
One of the most interesting pieces to come out of the materials posted in advance of the big meeting on rising rents is the rent study, it’s the first Exhibit. While some folks are concerned with the limited focus at the conclusion of the study of ways to preserve or increase the affordable housing supply, for me, it’s not that big of a deal given the healthy skepticism that exists on the City Council with regard to anything that is consultant produced. And, besides, we already know of what can be done, it’s simply a matter of whether this City Council is bold enough to move forward with policies that currently exist to protect and increase the supply of affordable housing in Alameda. We don’t have a shortage of ideas and practices that work in other cities, what we have is an issue of leadership. Whether this City Council has the will and the ability to move forward these issues.
So let me pull out some of the more relevant facts that should inform this discussion about rising rents and should affect political positions on these issues.
Approximately 16,793 units, or more than 53% of Alameda’s total housing stock, are rental units.
As promised by the City on Wednesday afternoon they released all the documents in advance of the City Council special meeting on Wednesday regarding rising rents and what the City is going to do about it. All in all, Staff did an excellent job of compiling as much information as they could and draft a proposed emergency moratorium in the case that the City Council wants to go that route to give the City more time to come up with more permanent solutions. Today I’m just going to write about the information in the Staff Report itself and not the supporting documents because the Rent Study is a whole post for another day. Good information and data there, also really good reading — if for anecdotal evidence alone — is the report by Renewed Hope which was positively heartbreaking though with one obvious troll attempting to muddy the waters in the open comments.
Important to note, the emergency moratorium requires four affirmative votes to pass, so we might be looking at this scenario on Wednesday night. This moratorium goes a lot further than Tony Daysog’s proposed moratorium, it’s not clear if he would be open to a much broader and sweeping moratorium since he had the blue sky ability to really push the boundaries when he was making his own propositions.
From the staff report regarding the proposed urgency moratorium:
On Monday the City sent out a press release regarding the special meeting on rising rents in Alameda. On the next morning they had retracted the press release without much information as to why other than it needing to be “modified.”
The strange thing is that the Press Release itself if fairly straight forward containing all the information that one would need in a press release. Time, date, topic, protocols in case there are too many people, etc and so forth. It’s not clear what sorts of corrections are immediately necessary that the City would strangely need to retract a press release that had already hit many email boxes: The press release:
City Council to Hold Special Public Meeting on November 4, 2015
To Consider Impacts of Rising Rents on Alameda Residents
The Alameda City Council will be holding a special meeting on Wednesday, November 4, 2015, to consider the impacts of rising rents on Alameda residents. The meeting will start at 6:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue.
At the special meeting, the City Council will discuss the findings of a study on the rental housing market in the City of Alameda, prepared by BAE Urban Economics (BAE). City staff will also present a range of policy options for City Council to consider that address rental housing market issues, including rapidly rising rents and low vacancy rates in Alameda. The BAE rent study and the staff report for the special meeting will be available on the City’s website by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, 2015.
There’s a great moment in last week’s City Council meeting that I want to talk about but will wait till I get a chance to splice through some video, because it really needs to be watch to fully appreciate. But in the meantime I wanted to talk about the discussion that occurred around the new, really exciting food and beverage maker space. Now given that it’s pretty much exactly what people say they want to see in new businesses, of course you would think this would have been a relatively short discussion (love it, yay! move on) But naturally with this Council that was not meant to be.
Everyone was completely on board with it with the exception of Trish Spencer. Why? Because she had an issue with the option for purchase price.
Remember these are buildings that have been neglected for years, calling it Class C Commercial is probably a generous description. Plus the option to purchase would generate $68 per square foot for one building and $74 per square foot for the other. According to Trish Spencer this was too low because residential properties are going for way over that.