Over the past several months, issues concerning residential rental housing have come into public awareness.
Through the efforts of Renewed Hope Housing Advocates, the Planning Board proposed the formation of a task force to address the concerns of residents who rent apartments, condos, townhouses and single-family homes.
Last month, the City Council voted 3-2 to postpone the formation of the proposed rental housing task force and supported the request by Renewed Hope and the city’s major housing providers to come together as a community to identify the issues, become informed about the effects of certain practices and explore possible solutions in a respectful and collaborative process.
I would like to acknowledge Councilmember Stewart Chen for spearheading the community discussion approach, Councilmember Lena Tam for her unwatered support of the community discussion process and to Mayor Marie Gilmore who recognized the complexity of the issues involved, the fear that tenants might have in coming forward in a task force environment and acknowledged that the residents most impacted by rental issues wanted this community discussion to take place before initiating the task force.
Unlike the task force model, the community discussion method allows for direct participation by the affected parties in identifying the problem and developing solutions. Also, the community discussion will yield faster recommendations. The task force was given six months to do its work. The community group will report back to the City Council with recommendations in December.
The community discussion model that was approved consists of identifying and organizing the people that are directly and significantly impacted by rental housing issues (known as stakeholders), clearly describing the issues, becoming informed about the facts, offering solutions to the issues, and working collaboratively to develop and present solutions that all the stakeholders agree on.
The stakeholders in this community discussion are tenants and housing providers. Additionally, there are a number of advisory stakeholders who would provide information that could be useful to the stakeholders in evaluating the many possible solutions that will be proposed. At this time, ECHO Housing has agreed to participate, and there are invitations out to several other organizations.
For this project, the stakeholders representing tenants have generally been grouped into the following resident categories: seniors; disabled persons; low-income and section 8 residents; families with children in Alameda schools; English as a Second Language residents; moderate-income tenants that presently can afford to pay rent but have anxiety about future rent increases; tenants that rent from model landlords (best practices); and tenants that have experienced questionable practices.
The stakeholder categories for housing providers include: owner-occupied rental units; owners of single-family homes, townhouses, and condos; two- to four-unit properties; owners of Victorian conversions; small unit (six to 15 units) properties; mid-size housing providers owning buildings with 16 to 99 units; and large housing providers operating complexes with 100 or more units. All of these multiunit designations pertain to a single property.
While a number of tenants and housing providers have offered to participate in the public meetings, a significant number of tenants and landlords have expressed their apprehension and in some cases fear of being involved at all. Tenants are fearful of retaliation from landlords, and housing providers have privacy concerns. Consequently, I am looking into securing an at-large stakeholder for tenants and housing providers to read these anonymous and confidential communications.
As for next steps, three public meetings are now in the planning stages. The Introduction and Tenant Focus meeting will be held in late October. The state of the Alameda Rental Housing Market and Housing Provider Focus meeting is scheduled for early November, and the Solutions and Recommendations meeting in mid-November. Announcements will be published in the local newspapers and electronic media.
Tenant and housing provider stakeholder groups are looking for more representatives who can assist in suggesting solutions and evaluating the impact of those solutions on the various stakeholders.
Interested persons can contact me for more information on how they can participate. Also, if tenants and housing providers have experiences they think would be beneficial to share, they can contact me at 510-865-7369 or submit their written description to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1343, Alameda, CA 94501. Any contribution can be anonymous, confidential or made part of the public record. Specific names of apartment complexes, resident managers, property owners or individual tenants will not be disclosed in any manner.
Jeff Cambra is the facilitator for the rental housing community discussion project.