Rather than send the recently suspended rent control and just cause eviction ordinance to a costly election, Richmond City Council voted unanimously to officially repeal it Tuesday.
The vote ends a long-running and heated debate about an ordinance that polarized council and pitted Richmond’s renters against landlords.
In August, with support from the three Richmond Progressive Alliance members on council and powerful unions, a divided council passed the rent control and just cause eviction ordinance, arguing that spiking rents were pushing low-income residents out of the city.
The ordinance was opposed by Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmembers Nat Bates and Vinay Pimple, who referred to studies by economists showing rent control doesn’t work to keep rents down and thus hasn’t been adopted by another jurisdiction in decades. They also warned that rent control would discourage landlords from investing in improvements on their properties, contributing to further blight in Richmond.
In response to the policy, a petition to repeal the ordinance — backed by the also powerful California Apartment Association, which represents landlords — was launched and garnered more than enough signatures from residents.
Due to the petition, council on Tuesday was forced to decide whether to repeal the ordinance or to place it on an upcoming ballot for voters to decide, which would cost the cash-strapped city anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 depending on the election cycle.
But that doesn’t mean the debate is over. Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin said her group is continuing efforts to protect renters.
In his e-forum Wednesday, Mayor Butt said he believes rent control advocates have a plan to introduce a new initiative that’s “even more draconian.”
“Advocates for rent control apparently believe they have a better chance of passing a rent control ballot measure that starts as an initiative than defending a ballot measure described as a repeal,” Butt said, adding that the previous ordinance was riddled with “legal and technical glitches.”
Butt predicts a petition drive for a new ballot measure “beginning sometime in the next few months.”
The usually large crowds that have gathered at council meetings to support rent control were not present at Tuesday’s meeting. Only two residents spoke about the ordinance during public comment, one for and the other against. Richmond resident Bea Roberson chided McLaughlin for pushing yet another bad policy and wasting council’s time despite the city’s more pressing issues.
“We are once again wasting time on discussing some cockamamie scheme that has been brought forward by Mrs. McLaughlin,” Roberson said. “She wanted us to do something regarding the Palestinian blockade, if you remember, with a four-hour discussion. She wanted us to break the law and apply eminent domain to underwater houses here and get sanctions applied to Richmond. That discussion lasted more than six hours and the housing market is now rebounding.”
The short-lived rent control ordinance had capped rents in Richmond to annual increases of no more than 100-percent of the Consumer Price Index for about 10,000 units in the city — excluding units in all single-family homes and units built after Feb. 1, 1995, among others. It also included a just cause for eviction portion that aimed to replace the current system where landlords only need to give notice, not a reason, for eviction.
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