Several weeks ago in this blog, I posted an article about spiking housing costs in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, and how that phenomenon had compelled various individuals and groups to press for the adoption or expansion of rent control in a number of local cities. Based on recent events, at least one of those trends seems to be increasing unabated.
Over the past couple of weeks, organizations in three Peninsula municipalities—Burlingame, Mountain View, and San Mateo—have launched voter initiatives to implement rent control in those jurisdictions. In Burlingame, a local tenants’ rights association (Burlingame Advocates for Renter Protections) is seeking to place a proposal on the November 2016 ballot that would overturn Measure T (which prohibits the city council from imposing rent control without a popular vote) and impose limitations on rent increases and evictions. Also attempting to put a rent control measure up to a vote this November is the Mountain View Tenants’ Coalition, which is now focusing on modifying the municipal code to cap rent increases and require “just cause” for eviction after efforts to persuade the Mountain View city council to pass certain measures regarding these issues failed earlier this year.
Most recently, in San Mateo, a coalition of local activists began the daunting process of trying to get a proposed city charter amendment on the November ballot, in the wake of a decision of the San Mateo city council not to adopt emergency tenant relief provisions. Entitled the San Mateo Community Preservation and Fair Rent Charter Amendment, this measure would enact limits on rent increases and evictions, adopt an annual rental housing fee, and compel the city council to create a Rental Housing Commission to enforce these new mandates.
Meanwhile, in San Jose, competing constituencies are continuing to battle over the future of that city’s existing rent control ordinance. As I noted in my prior blog post, the San Jose city council recently adopted a measure to consider reducing the existing 8% cap on rent increases, limiting landlord cost “pass-throughs,” requiring “just cause” for evictions, and expanding the rent control ordinance to cover duplexes. The city council is currently scheduled to vote on the housing department’s final recommendations on these policies, including an annual rent cap tied to inflation, at its April 19 meeting (after this article has been written). In the meantime, several members of the San Jose City Council have weighed in on the matter: Councilmember Chappie Jones has issued a proposal that would limit some of the more tenant-friendly aspects of the housing department’s suggested modifications, including a 5% annual rent cap not linked to inflation, while Councilmembers Johnny Khamis and Manh Nguyen, along with Vice Mayor Rose Herrera, have offered a 6% cap, and Councilmember Don Rocha has emerged in support of the housing department. Whether the council will act on these proposals at its meeting or postpone a decision in order to continue discussion and analysis will remain to be seen.
While these ideas are being fiercely debated, the local housing market, which has been white-hot for some time now, could be showing signs of softening. Apartment rents in San Mateo County and Santa Clara County dipped slightly during the fourth quarter of 2015, amid other signs of cooling in real estate. Even so, some observers believe that this drop is only temporary, pointing to the fact that rent increases slowed down in 2014, only to gain strength again later in the year. Stay tuned.