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Noozhawk: Santa Barbara City Council Creates Task Force to Explore Tenant Protection Measures

March 22, 2017
Santa Barbara, California – Published 3/22/2017
By Brooke Holland

More than 200 Santa Barbara property owners, landlords and tenants overflowed City Hall Tuesday evening to speak publicly about strategies for residential tenant protection measures.

As Santa Barbara faces a housing shortage with a vacancy rate of 0.6 percent, the City Council explored five topics including; enhanced tenant-landlord mediation, mandatory leases, apartment safety inspections, just-cause evictions and rent control.

After nearly four hours of public comments, the City Council voted 5-2, with councilmen Frank Hotchkiss and Randy Rowse opposing, to create a task force consisting of landlords and tenants to develop more information about mandatory leases, safety inspections for multifamily residential buildings, and just-cause eviction.

Councilman Gregg Hart suggested taking rent control off the list of possible strategies, which were laid out in a staff report prepared by City Attorney Ariel Calonne.

Around 10:50 p.m., the Council unanimously asked city staff to gather more information about enhanced mediation possibilities.

The council chambers filled to a standing-room capacity and many of those in attendance crowded in the halls.

Calonne’s staff report determined 92 percent of city housing stock was built before 1990, and that the “lack of maintenance can discourage reinvestment and can result in depressed neighborhood property values and reduced quality of life in the community.”

“Maintaining existing supply in a slow growth environment is important,” Calonne said. “One steady theme over the years is that preservation of the housing stock in Santa Barbara is an important city objective.”

In 2014, Santa Barbara’s residential vacancy rate was about 0.6 percent, Calonne’s staff report said.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a vacancy rate of 5.0 percent “is considered sufficient to provide choice and mobility.”

Calonne said the city’s population growth rate is small and the household size is steady around 2.5 people.

The expected population growth by 2040 is up to 6,000 people, Calonne said.

“We are looking at a relatively contained growth environment for the foreseeable future,” Calonne said. “That has an impact on the housing market because it will affect how much is needed to produce and preserve.”

Calonne said there were 16,500 multi-family Santa Barbara units in 2014.

“That’s a big number,” he said. “It impacts how to handle inspection or how much city involvement is determined and can be affordable for the community to engage in.”

Calonne highlighted affordable rents for different income levels are necessary.

“Santa Barbara housing is generally affordable to people with moderate income, and that’s close to $90,000 a year,” Calonne said.

In contrast, he said about 57 percent of Santa Barbara households earn less than $75,000 annually.

State law requires the city to provide housing for all income levels in the community, requires assurance that there’s land available to provide the homes, and to provide zoning for the housing, Calonne said.

According to Calonne’s report, while “substantial quantities” of new multiple family homes are being proposed under the city’s Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program, “the existing very low vacancy rate has supported substantial increases in the price of rental housing.”

Santa Barbara is responsible for about 71 percent of the housing on the South Coast of Santa Barbara County, Calonne said.

My ears are open on the issues of how to make the AUD work better and maintain Santa Barbara as the jewel it is,” said City Councilman Harwood “ Bendy” White, who serves as the chair of the Housing Task Force. The city’s task force was created in 1975 and provides information on residential tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities, as well as mediation.

Mayor Helene Schneider stressed the protection from corporate landlords who buy properties and evict tenants.

“There’s no protection from that,” Schneider said. “Our role is to figure out how can we create a set of rules that protect the most vulnerable.”

City Councilwoman Cathy Murillo had a sense of urgency Tuesday night to resolve just-cause evictions, meaning a local tenant protection ordinance that would prohibit landlords from evicting their residents without an allowed reason — such as failing to pay rent, violating the rental agreement terms, breaking the law, or the need to make considerable repairs on the property.

Murillo noted the families who had been evicted by Ivy Apartment Homes. On Nov. 1, the Westside tenants received 60-day eviction notices, she said.

“This is our chance right here, right now to do a just-cause eviction ordinance when we know people have been suffering,” Murillo said. “We know the harsh reality of living in Santa Barbara as a renter — I wanted to do more tonight.”

Santa Barbara City College Superintendent-President Anthony Beebe spoke on behalf of the college, the SBCC Board of Trustees and students.

He said the college supports tenants’ rights with an ordinance for protection against just-cause evictions.

“Hardly a week goes by that the college doesn’t learn about students that are being evicted on short notice or for no reason,” Beebe said. “At SBCC we know that housing is a challenge for our staff, student and faculty.”

One woman during public comment said finding a rental unit in Santa Barbara is similar to the movie Hunger Games.

A handful of property owners and realtors spoke during the meeting’s public comment and many of them wore square-shaped stickers saying “Housing for all” with miniature homes circling the edges.

“We are all one large community,” Santa Barbara Rental Property Association executive director Laura Bode said on Tuesday. “There isn’t enough housing rental stock in this community.”

SBRPA hosted a town hall meeting on Monday evening at The Fess Parker to find out its members’ concerns, but did not allow Noozhawk into the meeting, saying it was private and closed to the press.

A letter submitted by the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors detailed their members’ concerns and advocated that the city focuses on increasing the supply of housing, rather than regulating rents, leases or just-cause eviction.

Some landlords told the council they maintain their properties and care about their tenants.

“Most landlords are good landlords,” said Stephen Brown, principal and founding partner at Radius Commercial Real Estate & Investments.

Before the City Council meeting, more than 50 tenant rights advocates gathered beneath the rain clouds to rally for regulations that would protect working-class immigrant residents from being forced out by rising rents in Santa Barbara.

Organizers from Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a social and economic justice organization, said the most vulnerable communities are at risk of being pushed out of Santa Barbara by evictions and rent hikes.

The housing crisis impacts approximately 60 percent of Santa Barbara’s population who rents their homes, said CAUSE policy and communications director Lucas Zucker.

“Organizations that serve the working-class immigrant communities of Santa Barbara have seen a major spike in people walking in our doors holding eviction notices and rent increases, in search of anything that could help save their family from being kicked out of their home,” Zucker said. “Working-class and immigrant communities are a part of Santa Barbara’s past, present and future and make this city possible.”

Residents at the rally chanted and shared their messages through blue signs with slogans such as: “Stop the evictions” and “Renters rights now.”

“People who have called Santa Barbara their home, who have raised their children here, dedicated their lives to working here and built their communities here, are being displaced for the real estate industry’s profits,” Zucker said.

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