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Council Member Vianey Lopez (Photo by Chris Frost)
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

By Chris Frost
Tri County Sentry


Oxnard-- The city council, Tuesday, October 19, approved an ordinance that directs the staff to bring back a local version of AB1482, a state law the offers rent control and protections with a five percent rent increase cap.


The expiration date for the ordinance is in 2030. The staff will also come back with a public education program with an enforcement mechanism for local control. The ordinance will include a look at local tenant protection, density bonus continuation, an inclusionary ordinance, and focus on the employee pipeline.


The first draft of the ordinance should return in January 2022.


City Manager Alex Nguyen said the item is the next iteration of an important policy discussion.


"The staff has done its research and made our recommendations, but we also received a lot of public input," he said. "We have listened and analyzed as best as we could. This item includes staff reports, so I certainly hope all who are interested have taken the time to review all those, as well as the four associated videos that are available online."


Nguyen said the State of California is in a crisis with the issue.


"The State of California is undergoing a housing crisis and an associated homelessness crisis," he said. "This has clearly been stated by the Governor, the State Assembly, and Senate over the past five years. They have passed numerous bills trying to help resolve the problem."


He noted that the problem has been building for the last three to four decades.


"We confront that not only with the homelessness crisis but through our housing numbers through the next RENA Cycle," he said. "The state requires all local communities to produce housing, and we struggle with it there."


Nguyen asked what the city should do about the situation at the local level.


"Probably more importantly, what can we do here at the local level that would be both pragmatic and useful," he said.


He cited data from the Southern California Region of Governments (SCAG) and said the trendlines for homes remained the same from 1996 until 2016.


"The median home price in our region increased by over 300 percent," he said. "The median household income stayed flat, and when you adjust it for inflation, it went down about 5 percent."


He noted the gap between the income line and the cost of housing.


"This gap here, I'm nicknaming it Mount Everest," he said. "There are very few individuals or families at the median income, $65,000, that can bridge this gap for the median cost of housing."


He said the primary problem is the extremely high housing cost in California and the City of Oxnard is not exempt from that problem.


"This is decades in the making and has to do with the sacredness of single-family zoning, NIMBYism (not in my backyard), and a lot of cities in the state refusing to construct single-family housing," he said. "As a result, over the past several decades, as a state, we have not added nearly enough housing stock to keep up with the population growth in the state. Specific within that, we've certainly not added enough affordable housing stock."


He said it comes down to the fact that residents do not earn enough money to afford the housing.


"As we all know, the cost of housing burden has gotten so high; it's well beyond the 30 percent that you would expect a family to pay for housing," Nguyen said.


He advised the council to seek a crisis intervention measure.


"The staff believes that rent control in and of itself is not ultimately the right solution," he said. "We recognize that in the short run, it would slow the pace of rental increases. We recognize that many of our residents can certainly use that relief right now in this crisis."


In the long run, he said rent control causes problems in the housing market in some cities and includes spurring gentrification.


"That's why the staff has not recommended a permanent rent control ordinance," he said. "As far the recently enacted state rent control, AB1482, I have heard and read and understand that the advocates against rent control want us to wait and see how that law will play out. We've studied AB1482 as well, and while I don't have a crystal ball, but having worked in local government for nearly a quarter-century, I can tell you that AB1482 will not be effective at the local level."


Nguyen said AB1482 is a non-starter for local tenants, given the realities the community faces.


"Permanent rent control will not bridge that gap," he said. "Rent control will not produce, procure or ensure affordable housing," he said.


Nguyen said the city needs to find ways to produce more affordable housing.


"It also needs to include adequate, proper, dignified housing for our farmworker communities," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done there."


He said based on residents' current housing crisis there needs to be a way to slow rent increases.


"On the habitability issues, we started efforts on that, and we can continue with that," he said. "Likewise on the wage gap. We also need to work to push the wages up. There is nothing we can do to bridge that gap that I call the Mount Everest gap. There's nothing we can do to push the cost of housing that far down. We need to push wages up."


Even with the AB1482 gap, he said the cost of housing is so high it can mean high rent increases through 2030.


"We have families that are already strained in terms of nearly half their income is going to housing costs," he said. "A 9 or 10 percent increase for a two-bedroom apartment here is pretty significant. Under 1482, if you run those numbers through the end of AB1482, it can more than double. The crisis situation, given that the family is struggling and living in crowded conditions and surviving, it isn't that the next rent increase will dig into their family budget more. It could literally displace them from the housing that they have, and it would be very difficult to go and find the same cost housing in the city."


During public comments, Maria Navarro said that community members have spoken up against extreme rent increases for the last two years.


"We understand that this item is a contentious one, and it shouldn't be," she said. "We receive calls and emails here at CAUSE from desperate tenants who are unable to make ends meet. Some would say that AB1482 has not had the time to be implemented. We at CAUSE know this law inadequately covers tenants in Oxnard. Extreme rent increases that surpass $100 or $150 are still happening. The only thing we can tell people that come to us with a problem about rent increases is sorry, but your rent increase is perfectly legal under state law."


In council comments, Vianey Lopez there is a large process involved with rent control, and it started coming to the city council over a year ago.


"I want to thank the staff that has been working with all sides of this issue," she said. "They're working with CAUSE, the associations, and the chamber alliance to try and figure something out."


She cited one solution offered by Barbara Macri-Otiz and said it wouldn't be a perfect system, but it will bring progress.


"I want to introduce a motion to direct the staff to bring back a local ordinance version of AB1482," she said. "We do need some time to see this fully implemented. With that, adding a five percent cap on the rent increase and look at an expiration date of 2030."


She wants to be sure that rent control is being enforced.


"I would also ask for staff to bring back a proposal on an educational program and enforcement mechanism," she said.


Council Member Gabe Teran seconded the motion, and he asked if that would include elements from the staff report.


"You mentioned tenant education," he said. "Will we also need to look at local tenant protection, density bonus continuation, an inclusionary ordinance, and then focus on the employee pipeline?"


"Yes, that's correct," Lopez said.


Mayor Pro Tem Bryan MacDonald said he'd heard a lot of information.


"One of the things I didn't hear a lot of is what rents were and what they are and what they increased from," he said. "I did hear one young lady say that she's paying $2,000 for a two-bedroom apartment that I think exorbitant. I've talked to a lot of people about AB1482, and I've heard different versions of yea, it's alright, but it can't be enforced at the local level. In doing some research on this, it seems like Sacramento has introduced some internal legislation to make it able to enforce the elements to enforce AB1482. It may be something we want to look at. I'm not a big fan of reinventing the wheel. What disturbs me about this is any time that we as a government goes toward regulating something, it tends to have the opposite effect on the market. To me, this is boiling down to supply and demand. There's a huge demand for affordable housing, and there is no supply for affordable housing. It's driving the rents through the roof."


Councilman Oscar Madrigal said he's hesitant about the motion and noted that it can get lost along the way.


"I'm a little hesitant about the five percent cap," he said. "It should be the inflation rate which is about four percent instead of five. We got hundreds of emails both ways in the last 10 days. One that caught my eye was a lady who literally put a picture of her friend where they got the rent increase during Covid. They even put the address on it. These things are happening."


Councilman Bert Perello said he grew up doing farm work, and the method the item got on the agenda is a mistake.


"There were farmworkers who are going to speak, and this was driven by an organization that wants farm workers involved," he said. "Put it at the front of the agenda. These people get up in the morning early."


He noted one of the things that happen when there is a supply of people willing to work for any wage; there are people who hire them.


"Until that group stands up and demands a decent wage for decent work, you will continue to have problems like this," he said. "We had multiple people talk about multiple people renting rooms."


Councilwoman Gabby Basua said she works to provide people with low-income housing, so she sees what a lot of people spoke about during public comments.


"I also see a lot of our property managers who care so much and do things like lowering the rent," she said. "I just want to commend them."


She noted that a two-bedroom apartment built in the 1950s runs between $1,800 and $2,200 a month.


"Three bedrooms is $2,300 to $2,800," she said. "With rents continuously going up on a daily basis, and they do go up. Property managers are on top of this, and they are increasing those rents. If we have families with income that is stagnant, they are losing money. I'm going to support this, and I think this is a step forward."