Renters and Landlords Clash at City Council Meeting

Concerned residents fill council chambers to capacity

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A tense crowd of about 114 people filled Santa Cruz City Hall to capacity, with about 100 people looking on from outside, during the Nov. 27 City Council meeting intended to discuss potential amendments to the Relocation Assistance For Displaced Tenants Ordinance. The meeting surged on for more than four hours as community members sprang at the opportunity to voice housing concerns to the City  Council.

The relocation ordinance, passed on Oct. 2, requires landlords to pay two months worth of rent to tenants who are displaced due to large rent increases, hazardous living conditions or living in an illegal housing unit. The council moved to amend the relocation assistance ordinance by reducing the threshold for a large rent increase from 10 percent per year to five percent, and from 15.5 percent to seven percent for increases over two consecutive years. 

Community members gather outside an overflowing City Hall. The onlookers shouted interjections throughout the council meeting. Photo by Hannah Finley.

The motion passed 6-1, with only Chris Krohn dissenting. The council also placed an item on the agenda of the first session of the new council to increase the eviction notice period from 30 days to 90 days. 

“The problem with the relocation laws already is that there’s no way to enforce them without the will to do so and they’re also just tricky to enforce,” said Tenants Counselor-in-Chief for Power Surge Tenants Rights Cynthia Berger during public comment. Power Surge Tenants Rights is a local tenants advocacy  group.

This inability to enforce relocation laws likely stems from how the ordinance doesn’t specify a body to adjudicate claims. This means the tenants would have to take landlords to court over failure to provide relocation assistance. It also forces tenants to prove what the landlord’s intentions were upon  eviction.

While the meeting agenda set out to consider potential amendments to the Relocation Assistance For Displaced Tenants and Accessory Dwelling Units ordinances, the discussion morphed. Despite efforts from council members to redirect conversation, community members focused on rent freeze and just cause eviction  requirements. 

“I’m pretty afraid of my situation. I don’t necessarily have a good relationship or any relationship at all with my landlord,” said UC Santa Cruz fourth-year and Campaign for Measure M organizer Julian Parayno-Stoll. “I know without this rent freeze, there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to stay in my place long term.”

On Feb. 13 the City Council adopted two emergency ordinances creating Rent Freeze and just cause eviction requirements. But since Measure M, the rent control measure, failed to pass in the most recent election, these emergency ordinances will expire on Dec. 11, leaving tenants  vulnerable. 

Landlords and rent control opponents at the meeting expressed concern an action from the council to modify or extend these emergency ordinances would effectively subvert the election results.

“The public should remember that these temporary measures are based on Measure M and  largely share the same language,” said Santa Cruz Together board member Lynn Renshaw during public comment. “The City Council should respect the will of the voters and limit any action to the proposed relocation  ordinance.”

Conversely, rent control proponents reject the claim the emergency ordinances and Measure M are one and the  same. 

“To suggest the defeat of Measure M means the defeat of the idea of the temporary moratorium we’ve put in place is just simply inaccurate,” said council member Sandy Brown during council  discussion.

Brown went on to point out the temporary moratorium differs from Measure M because it doesn’t include a rent board and it exempts landlords with up to two homes from paying relocation  assistance. 

Opponents and proponents of rent control filled the gallery while council members discussed the relocation assistance ordinance. Photo by Hannah Finley.

Beyond council members’ support for a continuation of the existing emergency ordinances, many community members also took to the podium to voice the reasoning behind their support of an extension on the moratorium.

“A landlord should have to prove that the reason they’re displacing a tenant is for reasonable cause, of which there are many listed,” said Student United with Renters organizer Jessica Chuidian-Ingersoll to the council. “We don’t live in a city where there are available and affordable housing options for tenants.”

Santa Cruz is one of the least affordable housing markets in the U.S., with about 70 percent of renters spending more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing. With the failure to pass Measure H, which would have authorized the sale of $140 million in bonds to finance affordable housing development, the situation shows few signs of improving. With the new council taking its seats on Dec. 11, housing activists see now as the time to act.

“Having a so-called progressive majority on the city council doesn’t mean that our work is over by any means,” Julian Parayno-Stoll said. “Landlords are mobilizing, the forces of our opposition in this city are talking to each other, and are more organized than they were a year ago. We need to show up as students, show up as renters and exert our power.”

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Sean D. Ross is editor for the City News desk at City on a Hill Press. Previously, Sean served as an editor for the Investigative News desk and as a reporter for the Campus, City and Sports desks over the past two years. Before coming to UC Santa Cruz, he was News Editor for the Diablo Valley College Inquirer, contributing to the Inquirer earning the Journalism Association of Community Colleges’ “General Excellence” award at the 2016 Northern California Conference. For his coverage of California fires in the fall of 2017, Sean was awarded third prize in the California College Media Association’s Breaking News competition. Sean is pursuing a career in law, and has interned for renowned California attorney James M. Wagstaffe. Besides casually browsing LexisNexis, Sean enjoys board games of all stripes, competitive Magic: the Gathering, playing the french horn, automotive racing and the literary stylings of Neil Gaiman.