Oakland poised to pass rent moratorium

By Laura Casey, For the East Bay Times

OAKLAND -- The City Council was poised Tuesday night to pass a temporary moratorium on rent hikes and evictions. They indicated their support for declaring a citywide housing state of emergency prior to hundreds of speakers voicing their opinions on the issue and the council making an official vote.

Because more than 200 speakers signed up to have their say on the moratorium, council members said early in the evening that it would likely pass. They then let those on both sides of the issue speak late into the night.

The moratorium is a 90-day emergency ordinance that ties the annual allowable rent increase to the Consumer Price Index. It also prohibits evictions without just cause.

The moratorium provides the city an opportunity to do outreach so tenants know and can exercise their rental rights, Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney said.

Early in the evening, Councilmember Desley Brooks said there is a "serious, serious" housing emergency in Oakland.

"I think that it's paramount that we pass this emergency ordinance tonight," she said as she threw her support behind the moratorium.

Supporters far outweighed opponents, most of whom were rental unit owners. Organizations like Block By Block, the Wellstone Democratic Club, SEIU 1020, Oakland Parents Together, the Oakland Tenants Union and Oakland Alliance all had group members present to support the moratorium.

Individual renters like Lukas Smithey, a 15-year Oakland resident, also came to the meeting to support the new restrictions. He said he has noticed the dramatic change in housing affordability in recent years.

"It's obviously a very important issue right now. It's affecting a lot of people and a lot of people I know have been evicted," he said. "They should put the brakes on this. It's out of control and there aren't enough protections in place for people to not be displaced."

Casey Jones Bastiaans pointed to Alameda's recent passage of a similar moratorium and said that Oakland needs to follow suit.

"I think that it's absolutely imperative that a moratorium be passed this evening so we can come to some solutions," she said.

Yet building owners like Lin Tymes, who has managed her property for 40 years, said she does not overcharge residents and the CPI is too low to recoup maintenance and other costs.

"I think there's a lack of fairness," she said. "You just can't keep up with the expenses as it is. You lose control of your property."

Rental housing owner Jay Spencer, who owns a nine-unit building, put it more bluntly.

"These people are sacred. Their rents can't be raised except incrementally and the landlords have to eat it," he said. "It has created a caste system of haves and have nots. It doesn't help with affordability, it just saves the sacred cows who have been there forever."

Jill Broadhurst, executive director of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, said the moratorium does not fix the real issue in Oakland which is a lack of housing. She also said that not allowing rental property owners to raise rents defers maintenance and capital improvements.

"Council and this administration is validating that they approve substandard housing,"

Broadhurst said. She also argued that the often-quoted 1,000-per-month evictions is an inaccurate figure and that evictions are not as rampant as that.