Mercury News May 12, 2015
SAN JOSE — Living in the capital of Silicon Valley comes with a staggering price. Just ask Gloria Vibanco, a 60-year-old driver who ended up homeless three years ago after losing both her husband and her job.
“I couldn’t afford the rent anymore,” Vibanco said. “I ended up in the shelter.”
City leaders on Wednesday will consider ideas that could ease the plight of renters like Vibanco. Mayor Sam Liccardo and four council members are proposing several affordable housing measures, including expanding San José’s rent-control law. That law prohibits landlords from increasing rent more than 8 percent annually, but it only protects units built before 1979. The council members also propose lowering the rent-hike limit from 8 percent to 4 percent annually.
“There’s about 10,000 units that were built between 1979 and 1995 that are not covered by the city’s rent-control statutes,” said Councilman Charles “Chappie” Jones, who is among those interested in exploring rent-control expansion, which the City Council’s Rules and Open Government Committee will consider Wednesday, among other ideas.
Apartments built after 1995 fall under the state’s rent-control law, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which excludes properties built after 1995 from any type of local rent control.
The rent-control expansion proposal originated with Councilman Raul Peralez, and in addition to Liccardo and Jones, also has support from Councilwomen Magdalena Carrasco and Margie Matthews.
But one group is challenging the plan, saying expanding rent control will jeopardize an owner’s ability to maintain a property. The California Apartment Association’s Tri-County Division called the proposal “unwarranted” and encouraged property owners to protest it.
“Rental property owners in San José have been operating under a set of rules for 35 years and to change the rules on them is quite unfair,” said Joshua Howard, the association’s senior vice president of local public affairs. “I think the city would be better served by thoughtfully increasing the supply of all types of housing.”
San José’s average rent increased 11 percent last year, to a whopping $2,230, city data shows, and officials estimate an individual must earn $31 an hour to afford anything bigger than a one-bedroom dwelling.
Chris Richardson, regional director of Downtown Streets Team, a nonprofit working to end homelessness, said his organization helps more than a dozen people relocate each month — usually when they can no longer afford the rent. According to advocates, unaffordable housing is a primary reason San Jose residents end up on the streets.
After being homeless for four months, Vibanco tried to get back on her feet. But she was met with a cruel reality when apartment hunting in San José.
“The rents were outrageous,” Vibanco said. “You had to have two or three people working full time to be able to rent anywhere in San José.”
The mayor and council members also suggest a city law barring discrimination against recipients of federal Section 8 housing subsidy vouchers. Advocates say Section 8 participants often experience discrimination, but state law doesn’t protect against it. California cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and East Palo Alto have adopted ordinances to prohibit Section 8 discrimination.
The mayor and council members also propose a “Just Cause” ordinance to prevent tenants from being evicted without a cause. Bay Area cities like Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley and Hayward have adopted similar laws.
Councilwoman Carrasco acknowledged the city needs to weigh the interests of property owners carefully. “The last thing I ever want to do is break someone’s bank because we’re trying to fix another social issue,” Carrasco said. “We want to make sure our landlords can sustain themselves and continue investing in the properties.”
Other proposals set to be heard Wednesday include initiatives to expand housing supply by redeveloping older buildings, addressing homelessness by constructing micro-housing and exploring funding options for veterans housing.
Liccardo said the city is brainstorming new ways of dealing with San José’s affordable housing crisis.
“There’s been a lot we’ve been working on,” the mayor said, “but we recognize there’s a need to come up with new solutions.”
Peralez called for reviewing the policies within the next six months, with possible adoption on January 1, 2017.
Ben Field, executive officer of the South Bay Labor Council, said something needs to be done soon.
“It’s clearly a crisis situation and it needs to be treated that way by the mayor and the rest of the council,” Field said. “There’s no time to waste.”