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Rental Housing Committee declines to scale back Mountain View's rent control law amid COVID-19

Julian Pardo de Zela, a Rental Housing Committee member, wants to seek ways to suspend parts Mountain View's rent control law. File photo by Magali Gauthier

Calling it the wrong time and terrible optics, Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee declined Monday to consider ways to scale back the city's rent control law during the coronavirus pandemic.

The idea, proposed by committee member Julian Pardo de Zela earlier this month, was to figure out what parts of the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) could be suspended when apartment vacancy rates get too high. But the proposal was met with fierce pushback by tenant advocates, who argued even exploring those ideas would be unconscionable at a time when renters are struggling to stay housed.

Speakers at the meeting said rent control has kept people housed during the pandemic and staved off displacement while COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the community. They warned that any erosion of the CSFRA would further disrupt the lives of vulnerable renters and could put people on the street.

"Just because you can do this doesn't mean that you should," said resident Eva Tang. "This is a horrible use of staff resources that could actually be going to help people as opposed to eliminating rent control at a time when people are losing their jobs, people are getting sick and going to the hospital and dying."

Under the CSFRA, the Rental Housing Committee is allowed to suspend part or all of the law in the event that vacancy rates in the city climb beyond 5%. Though the vacancy rate has rested between 4% and 5% since rent control passed, COVID-19 has since caused a surge in new vacancies. For rent-controlled apartments, the vacancy rate spiked from 4.4% prior to the pandemic to 9.3%.

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Average rents for rent-controlled apartments, meanwhile, sank from $2,700 to $2,400, according to city data.

Pardo de Zela said there's a reason the committee is able to retool rent control when vacancy rates get too high, and that he worried about what the pandemic has done to the available housing stock in the city. Landlords have publicly stated they are reluctant to rent out vacant rent-controlled units because tenants could lock into a depressed rate, he said, which means less housing opportunities for renters and less income for landlords.

"They don't want to rent them right now because they might have a tenant for the long haul that they end up with at a very low base rent," Pardo de Zela said. "That's the kind of thing that harms everyone in Mountain View."

While Pardo de Zela was vague about what rent control rules he would want to suspend, he said his goal was not to harm renters or completely abolish rent control. He insisted that the committee has an obligation to explore its options when vacancy rates get too high, and that failing to do so would be an abdication of their responsibility to the public.

"We owe it to ourselves and to the public to figure out if there is something we could do right now, are there some aspects of the CSFRA that we could suspend to help Mountain View. And I do not think that is pro-landlord or pro-tenant sentiment," he said.

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Speakers at the meeting sharply disagreed. Bruce England, speaking on behalf of the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, said the rules for suspending the CSFRA were meant for normal market fluctuations -- not extraordinary, temporary circumstances like COVID-19. The housing market will bounce back, he said, and trying to seize the moment and scale back rent control would pose an "unfair burden" on renters.

Others felt it was the latest attempt by committee members to attack rent control, using the pandemic and abnormal vacancy rates as a vehicle for subverting renter protections.

"The fact that this proposal even made it this far should not, but does, shock me," said resident Scott Hayden. "It's been the goal of landlords and real estate lobbies of Mountain View and California to abolish rent control ever since Measure V was passed, and now you're using a deadly plague to advance your radical, pro-profit, anti-human goal."

Committee member Matt Grunewald said it's "highly unlikely" that the Rental Housing Committee would -- or even could -- suspend the CSFRA in its entirety, but that suspending parts of the law could be a useful tool. He said the spike in vacancy rates could be the committee's chance to clean up some of the language in the law, which he said has had some unintended consequences that aren't necessarily bad for tenants.

"Right now this is just about exploration of what options we would have," Grunewald said.

But others said now is not the time to tinker with the CSFRA. Committee member Susyn Almond said she opposed even considering the committee's options, and that people in the community are frightened by the prospect of losing tenant protections. Nicole Haines-Livesay, while more willing to explore the committee's options, said the committee needs to be empathetic and understand that perception is reality.

"When you have a community outcry saying 'No, don't do this,' it just sounds like it's the wrong time," Haines-Livesay said.

Given the health orders and the need to shelter in place during the pandemic, committee chair Emily Ramos said she couldn't justify putting Pardo de Zela's proposal on the agenda. People are still getting rent increases even as the regional rental market tumbles and vacancy rates have shot up, she said, but at the very least they can fall back on rent caps under the CSFRA.

"I understand that you want to just start the process and see the 'what if,'" Ramos said. "The 'what if' terrifies people."

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Kevin Forestieri is an assistant editor with the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. He joined the Voice in 2014 and has reported on schools, housing, crime and health. Read more >>

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Rental Housing Committee declines to scale back Mountain View's rent control law amid COVID-19

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Dec 15, 2020, 12:35 pm

Calling it the wrong time and terrible optics, Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee declined Monday to consider ways to scale back the city's rent control law during the coronavirus pandemic.

The idea, proposed by committee member Julian Pardo de Zela earlier this month, was to figure out what parts of the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA) could be suspended when apartment vacancy rates get too high. But the proposal was met with fierce pushback by tenant advocates, who argued even exploring those ideas would be unconscionable at a time when renters are struggling to stay housed.

Speakers at the meeting said rent control has kept people housed during the pandemic and staved off displacement while COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the community. They warned that any erosion of the CSFRA would further disrupt the lives of vulnerable renters and could put people on the street.

"Just because you can do this doesn't mean that you should," said resident Eva Tang. "This is a horrible use of staff resources that could actually be going to help people as opposed to eliminating rent control at a time when people are losing their jobs, people are getting sick and going to the hospital and dying."

Under the CSFRA, the Rental Housing Committee is allowed to suspend part or all of the law in the event that vacancy rates in the city climb beyond 5%. Though the vacancy rate has rested between 4% and 5% since rent control passed, COVID-19 has since caused a surge in new vacancies. For rent-controlled apartments, the vacancy rate spiked from 4.4% prior to the pandemic to 9.3%.

Average rents for rent-controlled apartments, meanwhile, sank from $2,700 to $2,400, according to city data.

Pardo de Zela said there's a reason the committee is able to retool rent control when vacancy rates get too high, and that he worried about what the pandemic has done to the available housing stock in the city. Landlords have publicly stated they are reluctant to rent out vacant rent-controlled units because tenants could lock into a depressed rate, he said, which means less housing opportunities for renters and less income for landlords.

"They don't want to rent them right now because they might have a tenant for the long haul that they end up with at a very low base rent," Pardo de Zela said. "That's the kind of thing that harms everyone in Mountain View."

While Pardo de Zela was vague about what rent control rules he would want to suspend, he said his goal was not to harm renters or completely abolish rent control. He insisted that the committee has an obligation to explore its options when vacancy rates get too high, and that failing to do so would be an abdication of their responsibility to the public.

"We owe it to ourselves and to the public to figure out if there is something we could do right now, are there some aspects of the CSFRA that we could suspend to help Mountain View. And I do not think that is pro-landlord or pro-tenant sentiment," he said.

Speakers at the meeting sharply disagreed. Bruce England, speaking on behalf of the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, said the rules for suspending the CSFRA were meant for normal market fluctuations -- not extraordinary, temporary circumstances like COVID-19. The housing market will bounce back, he said, and trying to seize the moment and scale back rent control would pose an "unfair burden" on renters.

Others felt it was the latest attempt by committee members to attack rent control, using the pandemic and abnormal vacancy rates as a vehicle for subverting renter protections.

"The fact that this proposal even made it this far should not, but does, shock me," said resident Scott Hayden. "It's been the goal of landlords and real estate lobbies of Mountain View and California to abolish rent control ever since Measure V was passed, and now you're using a deadly plague to advance your radical, pro-profit, anti-human goal."

Committee member Matt Grunewald said it's "highly unlikely" that the Rental Housing Committee would -- or even could -- suspend the CSFRA in its entirety, but that suspending parts of the law could be a useful tool. He said the spike in vacancy rates could be the committee's chance to clean up some of the language in the law, which he said has had some unintended consequences that aren't necessarily bad for tenants.

"Right now this is just about exploration of what options we would have," Grunewald said.

But others said now is not the time to tinker with the CSFRA. Committee member Susyn Almond said she opposed even considering the committee's options, and that people in the community are frightened by the prospect of losing tenant protections. Nicole Haines-Livesay, while more willing to explore the committee's options, said the committee needs to be empathetic and understand that perception is reality.

"When you have a community outcry saying 'No, don't do this,' it just sounds like it's the wrong time," Haines-Livesay said.

Given the health orders and the need to shelter in place during the pandemic, committee chair Emily Ramos said she couldn't justify putting Pardo de Zela's proposal on the agenda. People are still getting rent increases even as the regional rental market tumbles and vacancy rates have shot up, she said, but at the very least they can fall back on rent caps under the CSFRA.

"I understand that you want to just start the process and see the 'what if,'" Ramos said. "The 'what if' terrifies people."

Comments

Gary
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Dec 15, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Dec 15, 2020 at 1:05 pm

While the demand for rentals is temporarily lower than before, the turnover brought on by the loss of jobs actually can increase profits. How? New tenants must pay market rents. So, a starting point would be an evaluation of the effect of VACANCY DE-CONTROL on profits. What percentage of covered rentals in Mountain View have turned over since the effective date of Measure V?


Bill
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Dec 15, 2020 at 2:07 pm
Bill, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Dec 15, 2020 at 2:07 pm

Relax. Give it 6 months and then there will be plenty of movement in the market and we be moving past the terrible COVID year.


Dan Waylonis
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Dec 15, 2020 at 2:20 pm
Dan Waylonis, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Dec 15, 2020 at 2:20 pm

Either it's a law with enforceable metric and guidelines or it's not. Vacancies now exceed the guidelines for the law.


ML Kyle
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Dec 15, 2020 at 2:30 pm
ML Kyle, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Dec 15, 2020 at 2:30 pm

This is great! Landlords should’ve saved up some $$ from their absurd rent hikes to cover for the downturn. They’re literally the least affected among us. They have dozens of financial tools for riding out the downturn on their own.


Longview
Registered user
another community
on Dec 15, 2020 at 3:14 pm
Longview, another community
Registered user
on Dec 15, 2020 at 3:14 pm

The Rental Housing Committee has the option to suspend renter protections only because vacancy rates are currently high. Asking rents have also fallen. And if you drive around town, there are many for rent signs. This is a favorable renter market, even if, as Pardo De Zela shared, some landlords are withholding units from being rented. Withheld units would be a problem for renters only if there were no rentals available. But this is not the case. So Pardo de Zela's concern is for landlords and their long term profits. Sorry landlords - market downturns happen. It may make sense for you to withhold units from market - but don't tell us that this is hurting renters, so therefore we should suspend rent control for the benefit of renters. Pardo de Zela's only valid argument is poor landlords. Trying to argue that renter protections are hurting renters is not logical, and not supported by the facts.


Longview
Registered user
another community
on Dec 15, 2020 at 3:19 pm
Longview, another community
Registered user
on Dec 15, 2020 at 3:19 pm

The CSFRA - mountain view's rent control law - gives the RHC discretion, not an ultimatum. When 5% vacancy rate is exceeded - the rental housing committee may - not must - suspend the CSFRA. If you expect a market bounce back - and if a pandemic is adding risk and uncertainty - no you don't choose to suspend rent control.


Steven Goldstein
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Dec 15, 2020 at 4:38 pm
Steven Goldstein, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 15, 2020 at 4:38 pm

Posted by Dan Waylonis you wrote:

“Either it's a law with enforceable metric and guidelines or it's not. Vacancies now exceed the guidelines for the law.”

Let look at the TEXT of the law that reads:

“Section 1718. - Decontrol.

If the average annual vacancy rate in Controlled Rental Units exceeds five percent (5%) , THE COMMITTEE IS EMPOWERED, AT ITS DISCRETION AND IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE THE OBJECTIVES OF THIS ARTICLE, TO SUSPEND THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ARTICLE. In determining the vacancy rate for Controlled Rental Units, the Committee SHALL CONSIDER ALL AVAILABLE DATA AND SHALL CONDUCT ITS OWN SURVEY. If the Committee finds that the average annual vacancy rate has thereafter fallen below five percent (5%) the provisions of this Article shall be reimposed.”

So the REALITY is that the RHC is not REQUIRED to implement decontrol. YOU knew that I am certain.

The real thing scaring the rent controlled landlords is that the market has collapsed in the City. And it will not likely recover as long as Oracle, HP, Palantir, Google, Apple are either allowing their workers to work from home or are outright leaving the county. The reality is the majority of THE BEST apartments in the city have seen price return to the levels they were in 2014, killing any return on investments.

The rent controlled ones are not even close to that quality. In fact, my building is about to be inspected by the City for severe patio/balcony safety problems. Twice my landlord brought in contractors but as soon as they saw that the main support beams holding up two patio balconies had serious cracks in them, they initially said they were still safe, but never started any work.

Here are some FACTS to consider, per the University of Massachusetts Amherst Building and Construction Technology webpage seen here (Web Link
[Portion removed due to lengthy cut-and-paste from another website/off-topic]


Steven Goldstein
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Dec 17, 2020 at 8:17 pm
Steven Goldstein, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2020 at 8:17 pm

What happened?

This topic is not interesting?


Steven Goldstein
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Dec 19, 2020 at 7:16 pm
Steven Goldstein, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2020 at 7:16 pm

Are we not entertained?


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