A proposed 45-day moratorium on rent increases and evictions to protect Richmond renters failed to pass last night after Mayor Tom Butt and councilmembers Nathaniel Bates and Vinay Pimplé voted against it. The emergency law required a supermajority vote, at least six of the seven councilmembers and mayor, to pass.
Similar moratoriums have been implemented in Oakland and Alameda to slow the displacement of low-income tenants due to drastically rising rents.
Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, the sponsor of the moratorium, said it was necessary to stem evictions in advance of the November elections when Richmond voters will decide whether or not to enact permanent rent control and just cause eviction protections.
Multiple tenants told the council last night that their landlords seem to be preemptively evicting them before the November vote so as to be able to raise rents to the maximum amount, even if the new renter protections are approved.
"I question the motives of why they're putting us out right before the ballot," said Vincent Justin, a Richmond renter who told the council he was recently served with an eviction notice and hasn't been able to find a new apartment he can afford.
"Please implement this urgent moratorium to give us a little more time," pleaded Sharon Brown, a 65 year-old renter, who said she moved from Oakland a few years ago because it became unaffordable. In Richmond, she found a church to join and started feeling like the city was her home, but she was recently served by her landlord with a 60-day notice to move out for no cause.
Jill Broadhurst, director of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, a landlord's group, said that if Richmond passes rent control many landlords might not be able to afford simple upgrades like patching a roof. As a result, the city's housing stock will decline in quality, she claimed.
"Anecdotes, while compelling, do not constitute an emergency," Broadhurst said in response to the testimony of dozen-plus tenants like Brown and Justin who told the council about their recent evictions.
Just before the vote, Mayor Tom Butt objected to the moratorium and said that rent control was like "throwing water on a grease fire."
"It's a supply and demand problem," said Butt, who also accused several members of the city council of blocking housing construction.
"Rent control will slow down gentrification," countered McLaughlin.
Councilmember Jael Myrick pointed out that both Alameda and Oakland have passed similar moratoriums. "This is not a radical thing," he said.
But when the vote came, Butt, Bates, and Pimplé refused to change their long-standing positions against rent control and eviction protections.
Bates even called the moratorium a "charade," accusing his fellow councilmembers and tenants of "interrupting the tranquility of the city" by continuing to press for renter protections after several previous failed efforts.
One member of the audience shouted back at Bates, "this is a democracy, you clown!"
The meeting ended with dozens of Richmond residents chanting "shame"
after the vote as Butt, Bates, and Pimplé exited the room.
Councilmember Jovanka Beckles called her three colleagues "disgusting."
Correction: the original version of this story erroneously stated that there are nine Richmond city councilmembers. There are in fact six and the mayor.