By Jacob Bourne
The City of San Mateo council members voted unanimously to include the San Mateo Community Preservation and Fair Rent Charter Amendment proposal on the ballot for the upcoming November 8 election. Over 10,000 signatures of San Mateo residents supportive of the ballot measure were gathered. The measure will require that a majority vote of over 50-percent to pass in November.[contextly_sidebar id=”MQLMaHHoamkM39SdvW7fJimx5I2ViXNQ”]Current laws in San Mateo don’t limit the amount of rent landlords of residential properties can charge and also allow landlords to evict tenants without cause once lease terms expire. The measure would establish base rental rates and only allow rent increases once per year not exceeding 4 percent. Both landlords and tenants would be able to petition for rent increases or decreases based on market conditions and the habitability of properties. Furthermore, landlords would only be able to evict tenants under certain circumstances such as lease breaches, criminal activity and demolition of property.
The measure is a result of largely resident-based grassroots effort in response to what is viewed as a lack of sufficient affordable housing in the city. Supporters of the measure argue that almost half of those in San Mateo are renters who find themselves extremely rent-burdened, which leads to a lower quality of life for many individuals. They also assert that those unable to pay higher rents or are evicted has created the displacement of many in the community and contributed to the rise in homelessness, with groups such as seniors and disabled people especially impacted.
The organizing effort was led by Giselle Alvarez, a San Mateo resident who works as a social worker for those with developmental disabilities. She partnered with other organizers affiliated with Faith In Action Bay Area, an organization that works toward economic justice and immigrant rights for those living in San Mateo and San Francisco counties.
“I was born and raised in San Mateo and have seen the changing demographics and skyrocketing rents and got involved to help stop the bleeding of the community,” Alvarez said. “I attended many City Council meetings, and we asked the City to do something but they’ve failed to enact an emergency ordinance.”
In order to gather signatures for the petition, Alvarez and other organizers walked the streets of the city and stood outside stores. She says a diverse array of residents are in support of the measure including homeowners, renters, clergy, teachers and even some landlords.
However, several property owners attended the City Council meeting and expressed opposition to the rent control and just-cause eviction measure. Some argued that the legislation would lead to unfair conditions where tenants remain in rent-controlled units for many years while newcomers to the area end up paying higher rents to subsidize building improvements. Others called the measure “draconian” as it could make it more difficult for some landlords to evict tenants that they deem unsuitable and argued that the best way to control rents is to decrease the heavy tax burdens placed on property owners.
Steve Blanton, CEO of the San Mateo County Association of Realtors is concerned that the measure will result in restricting the housing supply in San Mateo by discouraging people from getting into the rental business and causing others to stop renting their properties due to financial burdens.
“It’s a supply and demand issue—there hasn’t been enough housing in the purchase or rental sides for decades,” said Blanton. “The biggest barrier to increasing the housing supply is local and state regulations that limit supply. We’re feeling confident that as people look at this closely they’ll see that it’s not the best way to deal with this issue and that there are other ways. Rent control doesn’t add a single unit of housing for San Mateo.”
“I feel very confident that it will get passed,” added Alvarez. “Many people including the middle-class and homeowners are supportive of it. We have landlords who see themselves as the good ones who’ve signed the petition. They’ve seen the impacts on the community. Homeowners want their friends and neighbors to be able to stay in the community.”
Rent control laws already exist in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, East Palo Alto and San Jose. While debates are now beginning in Concord, cities such as Burlingame, Mountain View, and Alameda have measures similar to San Mateo on the horizon. Burlingame City Council recently voted unanimously to include rent control measures on November’s ballot, while in Mountain View voters may be asked to decide between multiple measures on election night.