Advertisement

Oakland City Council Freezes Rent For 90 Days, Seeks Long-Term Plan For Affordable Housing

Bay area activists rallying for rent control in March. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JANIE HAR
Bay area activists rallying for rent control in March. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JANIE HAR

Oakland City Council approved a 90-day moratorium on rent hikes late Tuesday evening, in the midst of what some are calling a housing emergency. City leaders hope to provide relief for hundreds of residents who are being priced out of their homes as real estate costs skyrocket.

The citywide moratorium will freeze rents at the rate of inflation for the next 90 days while the city devises a plan to address soaring housing costs. The ordinance will also close a loophole that allows landlords to increase rent for conducting maintenance repairs on their properties, a common method of justifying rent increases.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) says she supports the measure, so long as it gives landlords enough time to prepare for the changes.

The Tuesday evening City Council meeting drew hundreds of people, some even lining up outside city hall in order to get a glimpse of the action. More than 200 residents signed up to speak. The meeting did not conclude until after midnight.

Advertisement

Remarks were sometimes heated as renters, landlords, and local leaders sparred over the moratorium. “People here are basically going to be living out of carts, under freeways. People who work every single day,” one Oakland resident said at the meeting.

California state law limits cities’ ability to freeze rent on certain types of units, most notably single family homes. Oakland’s new moratorium is expected to conform to state law that governs municipal rent limitations. Consequently, some Oakland residents will not benefit from the rent freeze.

But the new moratorium will provide temporary relief to many Oakland residents, 60 percent of whom are renters. Housing prices are climbing nationally, and Oakland’s rent prices were the second fastest growing in the nation. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the city is now $2950 a month, according to a 2015 city report, which is 40 percent higher than the previous year.

Current Oakland policies cap rent increases at 10 percent a year, but City Council President Lynette Gibson observed that these policies don’t seem to be working. Considering the median income of an Oakland tenant is less than $35,000 a year, housing has become increasingly out of reach for many city residents. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf claims that one in four Oakland residents is in danger of being displaced due to rising rental costs.

Providing Oakland’s residents with affordable housing has been an ongoing mission for decades. Notably, the Black Panther Party, founded in Oakland in the mid-1960s, included affordable housing in their famous Ten Point Program as a response to racially-motivated housing policies.

Advertisement

In the modern context, booming wealth and inequality in the Bay Area has exacerbated affordability issues in Oakland, so much so that the city’s schoolteachers can’t afford to live there. Oakland is now seen as a more affordable option than San Francisco, driving up demand and housing costs.

One speaker at the City Council meeting captured the resulting frustration. “Nobody used to want to live here,” Marline Davis said. “Now because of gentrification, everybody wants to live here and push us out.”

Bryan Dewan is an Intern at ThinkProgress.