Rent control proposal likely to fail after councilmember changes heart

Rent control proposal likely to fail after councilmember changes heart
Photo credit to ACCE

In a bombshell announcement just days before City Council is expected to vote on whether to enact rent control in Richmond, swing-voter Councilmember Jael Myrick told the Contra Costa Times on Friday he no longer plans to support the policy being proposed.

The seven-member council has been starkly divided about the possibility of implementing rent control. Affecting about 9,000 units in the city, the policy would impose an annual cap on the amount landlords can increase rental rates amounting to 60-percent of the Consumer Price Index for the Bay Area. Properties built in or after 1995 as well as single-family homes would be among the units exempted from the policy, the Times said.

Council is expected to vote on the policy Tuesday. The three Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) members on council, including Gayle Mclaughlin, Eduardo Martinez and Jovanka Beckles, are pushing for rent control, while Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmembers Vinay Pimple and Nat Bates oppose the proposal.

Until Friday, it appeared Myrick, as the swing vote, was planning to support the policy, but he told the Times Friday the proposal appears to be too costly for the city.

“There are concerns about whether this can be done without impacting the general fund and could give the city a series of operational challenges,” Myrick told the Times.

Implementing the program would cost up to $2 million, require hiring 11 new staff and potentially invite costly lawsuits from landlords, the Times pointed out. Myrick was also uneasy about having City Council serve as a rent control board until a permanent board is created.

Myrick, who has been vocal about wanting to keep rising rents from displacing low-income residents, said he would instead vote for an alternative plan to protect renters: The creation of a mediation board that handles rent disputes.

The RPA says rent control is needed in Richmond, citing data showing a two-digit increase in rents over the last four years.

Mayor Butt opposes the notion that Richmond’s rents are skyrocketing, arguing that until recent years the recession kept landlords from increasing rates. Similar policies in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland have done little to curb skyrocketing rents, the mayor adds. He also cites arguments from some economists that rent control discourages property owners from making improvements to buildings. Low-income renters could end up iced out of the city’s rental market, he said, as once a rent-controlled unit becomes vacant the landlord can set the highest price possible and select the most credit-worthy tenants.