No more stories of unjust evictions, no more stories of raising rents on decaying, mold riddled homes, no more skating around the housing crisis.
The city of Santa Cruz can no longer permit landlords to take advantage of one of the most susceptible housing demographics — renters.
Santa Cruz County is the least affordable housing market in the U.S., according to a 2017 study by Demographia International Housing Affordability. For a renter to afford a one-bedroom home they would need to work 101 hours a week at minimum wage. The median rent is over $3,000 a month and growing an average of 9.5 percent a year.
Landlords benefit by renting homes to the highest bidder and unfairly evicting tenants who already pay too much.
Permanent rent control and just cause eviction laws must be implemented in Santa Cruz, and that will not happen without Santa Cruz voters’ resounding support of the rent control and just cause eviction petition before May 9.
In February, the Santa Cruz City Council approved temporary residential rental protection laws to protect tenants from rising rents and unfair eviction practices. But these protections will expire in September if Movement for Housing Justice (MHJ) does not gather 8,000 signatures on a petition to place them on the November ballot.
Even the temporary rent freeze leaves many gaps due to Costa–Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995. Outdated and slumlord-serving, Costa–Hawkins Act needs to be repealed in order for rent control to protect all renters.
Right now about 80 percent of renters in Santa Cruz are still subject to rising rents even with the rent freeze. This act does not allow rent control to be placed on single-family homes and units built after 1995 in 15 cities in California — including Santa Cruz. Because of Costa–Hawkins only about 22-24 percent of renters in Santa Cruz are protected under the temporary rent freeze.
The UCSC student population is equivalent to about one-third of the city of Santa Cruz. If students take initiative, register to vote in Santa Cruz and sign the rent control petition, we will be one step closer to housing justice.
Santa Cruz voters have until May 9 to sign the petition. MHJ is required to collect all signatures before then. The number of signatures gathered to date is not public knowledge at this time.
Counter arguments to rent control claim that making rents noncompetitive allow landlords to not properly manage units and dwellings, and that rent control threatens to destabilize the economy.
However, rising rents already put a wrench in the local economy and make Santa Cruz inaccessible for low-income people. Many rental homes are already unkempt — stricken with mold, inadequate ventilation, lead paint and asbestos — yet tenants are forced to settle due to fear of eviction or not being able to find another dwelling.
About 42 percent of Santa Cruz County is comprised of renters, and the mean renter wage is only $3 above the state-mandated minimum wage at $14 an hour. To afford a one bedroom home in the Santa Cruz-Watsonville metropolitan area without experiencing rent burden one would have to make $26.44 an hour in a 40-hour work week, nearly double the mean renter wage. We already have an economic hazard on our hands when renters are forced to take on rent burden.
Lawmakers also often receive significant pushback about rent control measures from landlord groups, such as the California Apartment Association (CAA). According to the CAA’s website, rent control and related legislation would discourage people from building new rental units, and only worsen the California housing crisis.
Major growing cities with large scale development such as Seattle and San Francisco have rent control laws. CAA is unfounded in their claims. Permanent rent control and just cause for eviction laws would protect renters, not curb a demand for housing in a growing city. But, renters will continue to demand that the unfair practice of landlords be made unlawful starting with MHJ petition.
Placing rent control on the 2018 ballot is the first step in securing housing justice for this city. Once tenants are protected we can rally to repeal Costa–Hawkins and continue the fight for keeping rent prices affordable and living conditions safe for renters.
Santa Cruz landlords treat housing as a commodity, not a right, placing profit over people. Shelter should not be an economic pursuit for wealthy landlords in a competitive housing market.