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Rent Hike Row

Hayward council argues over rent control cap

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Hayward renters could see their annual rent increases lowered from a current 5 percent cap to as low as 2 percent, according to a proposed revision to the city's Residential Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

The city's three-member Homelessness-Housing Task Force last week moved forward a staff proposal that could tie rent hikes to increases in the Consumer Price Index. Over the past two decades, increases in the CPI have averaged 2.6 percent annually.

The Hayward City Council is likely to take up the item sometime before November's election.

In July 2019, the council approved an ordinance that caps annual rent increases at 5 percent. Rental housing advocates, though, criticized carve-outs in the ordinance that allow landlords other avenues to raise rents above the threshold.

Under the current ordinance, landlords can choose to forego rent increases any given year and bank them for future years. Landlords can additionally pass-through up to 50 percent of capital improvement costs to renters. The ordinance covers residential rental buildings constructed before 1979.

In the year since Hayward enacted its Residential Rent Stabilization Ordinance, rents in the city have increased by an average of 4.7 percent, said Amy Cole-Bloom, a management analyst in the city's housing division. The mark matches the rate of nationwide annual increases for most of the past decade, she added.

"The current threshold is effectively doing its job," Cole-Bloom said. "Hayward increases are on par with rent increases for the region and will likely be consistent with long-term, market-rate return."

Aisha Wahab, the only member of the City Council who is a renter, maintained that the 5 percent threshold is too high in a city where one-quarter of its renters, many of whom are Latino and Black, are severely burdened with rental costs that make up at least half of their monthly income. And many seniors and the disabled in Hayward do not receive 5 percent annual wage increases.

"People with union jobs don't necessarily get a five percent increase," Wahab said. "In fact, that's getting whittled down as we speak with a lot of different communities."

Councilmember Mark Salinas supported the proposal but lamented how polarization of the issue has fostered a lack of communication between both landlords and renters.

Councilmember Sara Lamnin, the chair of the task force, rejected the need for further restrictions on rents at this time and pushed for more substantive fixes to the city's problems of homelessness and a lack of affordable housing. Lamnin suggested the task force's focus on annual rent increases is limiting staff's time for work on homelessness issues.

"Rent controls have been around for decades and we're really not seeing a decrease in the housing crisis, and it ballooned when we had the last recovery because housing speculation ballooned as well," Lamnin said. "I absolutely understand that people's income don't go up 5 percent, and I understand the stress our families are in and I am hearing the stories."

But when she motioned to keep the 5 percent threshold in place, Lamnin could not garner a second from Wahab or Salinas to proceed. Lamnin later pushed for affordable home ownership in Hayward, an issue Wahab has championed in recent months.

"The time to have preserved our starter home market was 50 years ago," Lamnin said, "but the next best time to do it is now."

When Wahab offered to work with Lamnin on the issue of affordable home ownership, Lamnin flatly declined the offer.

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