Oakland Approves Temporary Rent-Hike Moratorium

The Oakland City Council, just after midnight, unanimously approved a 90-day emergency moratorium on certain rent increases for a majority of rental properties.

Hundreds of people signed up to speak over the course of a few hours last night, and one by one they lined up at the podium. First up was James Vann of the Oakland Tenants Union, where he represents renters who make up about 60 percent of the city. The organization was one of many pushing for a housing emergency declaration and a temporary halt to rent increases.

"The council is notorious for not taking serious action, especially with regards to housing issues. Tonight we want that to be different," he said. "We are tearing our community apart. We came up with the moratorium to say stop, pause, take a breath. Let's stop this madness for a while so the council has time to think."

For many, the moratorium is more of a symbolic gesture, and 90 days isn’t that much time, considering how long it takes the city to move. For example, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said the city already allocated $100,000 last year to support the city’s Tenant Protection Ordinance. Kaplan asked city staff why they haven’t spent that money yet.

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"Can we please find out what is the status of the issuing of the money that the council voted for to enforce our tenant protections?" she asked.

The problem has been because of a lack of resources, said Michele Byrd, director of Oakland’s Housing and Community Development Department. The council pushed the city Tuesday night to find a group that could manage that pot of money, which is supposed to be used for education and outreach services for tenants to learn their rights -- a major systemic failure for Oaklanders being displaced, according to housing advocates.

People wait to speak about the rent moratorium ordinance before the Oakland City Council in City Hall on April 5, 2016.
People wait to speak about the rent moratorium ordinance before the Oakland City Council in City Hall on April 5, 2016. (Adam Grossberg/KQED)

The early-morning vote also doesn't solve another major problem -- a state law known as the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act that exempts about 40 percent of Oakland’s rental stock from the moratorium, according to Mayor Libby Schaaf, who spoke on KQED's Forum yesterday. The units exempt from the moratorium include newer rentals, including single-family homes and condos.

Oakland has seen rents rise 40 percent over the last 12 months for vacant available units, Schaaf said.

Wayne Rowland, president of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, said these are the units that are driving up market rents, not the rentals subject to the moratorium.

"It’s a little disingenuous to use the market-rate rents of 40 to 50 percent increase and turn around and put a freeze on units that are already pretty well controlled by the rent ordinance," Rowland said.

Property owners subject to the moratorium can raise rent on units under rent stabilization laws by a value tied to the Consumer Price Index, which is currently under 2 percent.

The moratorium would be extended to two- and three-unit owner-occupied buildings, which would increase coverage to about 60 percent of Oakland’s housing stock, Schaaf said.

But the moratorium does allow a landlord to petition for a fair rent increase. Landlord Alan Reinke was one of many who spoke against the moratorium. He said there’s a much bigger problem that needs to be dealt with.

"Frankly, I think you should find a way to create more affordable housing, and do it quickly, but that’s going to take money. Good luck," Reinke said.

Adam Grossberg contributed to this report.