Rent control is touted as a way to clamp down on housing expenses, but in at least one regard it's fast becoming a money pit for Mountain View. Getting the controversial program off the ground has already been budgeted to cost more than $860,000, and city officials are grudgingly paying that sum in advance.
The costs attached to the Measure V rent control program went under the magnifying glass in recent days as the City Council reviewed the city's final budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Council members made it clear that this money is a loan they would insist on seeing repaid once the program begins collecting fees.
Mountain View's new rental program is at its most labor-intensive stage. The city's new five-member Rental Housing Committee is dealing with a series of complex and consequential decisions as it establishes the policy groundwork for citywide rent control. Given the stakes, routine committee meetings feature a panel of three attorneys and a team of housing staff, none of whom are working for free.
Designed to run independently of city government, the rent-control program eventually must pay for its own staffing, office equipment and material costs. For the new fiscal year, city officials are budgeting for three new full-time office positions, including an associate planner, a clerical assistant and an analyst. The rental committee will need to eventually hire perhaps its most important staffer -- a hearing officer who will adjudicate disputes between landlords and tenants. This position is expected to be filled by a retired judge or arbitrator, who could charge as much as $1,250 per case.
The $860,000 being paid by the city is expected to fund the program through the end of 2017, but it is possible that other costs will also need to be covered, said City Manager Dan Rich.
"We'll probably need to provide more until they become self-sufficient," he warned. "It's going to be a significant number when this is all filled out."
All of these costs will eventually be placed on the city's 15,000 rent-controlled apartments through an annual fee that will likely be determined later this year. In January, rental-housing staff are expected to administer the first new fee on these apartments.
As they looked at the costs, some City Council members were clearly unhappy that the city is forced to subsidize a voter-approved program that many of them opposed during last November's election. Council members John McAlister and Margaret Abe-Koga pushed for a binding guarantee from the Rental Housing Committee that these costs would be repaid.
Councilwoman Pat Showalter urged restraint, saying she didn't want to create an "adversarial relationship" with the committee.
In the end, the council struck a balance, deciding to bring up the costs as an informational staff report for the Rental Housing Committee.
The staff report was scheduled to be discussed by Rental Housing Committee members at their July 10 meeting, but it was postponed due to a lack of time. The committee is now planning to review the issue at its July 24 meeting.