By James Vann
Oakland’s longstanding rental and affordable housing crises continue relentlessly. To the shame of local policymakers, very little has been done at a significant magnitude to alleviate residents’ suffering.
On its own, the market does not stem displacement or produce renter protections and affordable housing.
Only governments can perform these functions. Left to its own devises, the market will not provide housing to meet the mounting needs of lower income residents, who are an ever-growing majority of residents.
The state government is not innocent. Actions and non-actions at the state level have mostly made the local housing crisis worse.
Three particularly egregious state programs cripple local efforts to address housing problems: the Ellis Act of 1985, the Costa-Hawkins Housing Act of 1995, and the “Palmer vs. City of Los Angeles Decision” of 2009.
The Ellis Act permits wholesale, no-cause eviction of tenants when an owner no longer desires to operate rental housing — often a ploy to evict current tenants to make way for more expensive rents.
Costa-Hawkins — an accomplishment led by Gregory McConnell of Oakland and acknowledged with great pride on his website — erodes rent control by deregulating controlled units following each vacancy.
More recently, the Palmer Decision eliminated the ability of cities to impose inclusionary housing requirements to provide specified percentages of affordable units within a market development of rental housing.
The roots of the Costa-Hawkins Act are local. For years, State Senator David Roberti (LA), Judiciary Committee Chair, blocked the heinous Costa-Hawkins bill in committee.
When Senator Roberti was termed out in 1994, Berkeley’s beloved and presumed liberal Senator Nicholas Petris was appointed the seceding chair.
As one of his first acts, Senator Petris, a Berkeley resident and rental property owner, betrayed his local constituents and released the Costa-Hawkins bill to the Republican-controlled legislature.
The bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Republican house, and has since been a plague on renters and rent control programs all over the state.
While there may be little local residents can do to change federal housing policies, this is not at all true of state laws. There are urgently needed programs that can be implemented by the state that will significantly relieve the crisis being endured by tenants, artists, homeless and low-income households.
Despite having both a Democratic governor and solid majority legislature, there are no indications that needed improvements will occur without consistent mass organizing and ongoing pressure.
Here are some of the actions that are needed:
- Declare a general “State of Emergency in Rental Housing” to permit a period of relief from the epidemic of astronomical rent increases and no-cause evictions so that remedial programs can be proposed.
- Repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Law, which greatly restricts the ability of cities to establish, monitor, and maintain equitable regulations or fair rents and unwarranted evictions.
Repeal the Ellis Act, which permits wholesale elimination of rental buildings and mass eviction of current tenants, allowing units to be replaced with luxury condominiums.
- Reverse the L.A. Superior Court’s Palmer Decision, which prohibits cities from enacting inclusionary zoning — a program that formerly permitted cities to require that a percentage of a market development (usually 15 percent to 30 percent) must be affordable to lower income households.
Before the Palmer Decision, every city in the Bay Area had an inclusionary housing requirement – except Oakland.
- Use a large portion of the state budget’s surplus to create a fund for local communities to build housing for very low-, and low-income individuals and families. Presently, persons on fixed income, Social Security, SSI, or disability can only be served by federal Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and the quantity of these units is woefully below the need.
- Make it illegal to reject a tenant’s rent, or to claim non-receipt, as the basis for issuing a three-day notice, followed by subsequent Unlawful Retainer eviction of an otherwise fully compliant tenant.
- Establish a fund and program of loans and grants to Land Trusts. These developments are one of the only forms available for permanently affordable housing that does not escalate with irrational markets or inflation.
- Establish a fund and program of loans and grants to enable cities to purchase abandoned and vacated industrial buildings to be made available for affordable sale or rental to artists and community non-profit social services organizations.
- Enact an administrative procedure to authorize city and county attorneys to initiate legal action against patterns and practices of owner harassment of tenants. Present state law puts the responsibility on tenants to file suits in small claims or superior courts — a remedy that is not affordable to many.
- Reinstitute Redevelopment and Tax Increment Financing, programs that for decades enabled cities to build affordable housing.
Enact statewide bonds of $2 billion to finance the development of “mini-home communities” for homeless persons and families.
- Enact statewide bonds of $5 billion to aid developments of critically needed affordable housing.