The following is a recap of the February 23 Rent Board hearing on a proposed increase in the Rent Adjustment Program (RAP) fee, which tenant advocates believe is actually passed on to renters. For more on the fee increase see: Council Drops Fee Increase, After Outcry
Note: The fee increase proposal is currently scheduled to be heard before the City Council’s Finance & Management Committee on Tuesday March 22 at 9:30am. That date may change, so renters interested in speaking out against the fee increase should look out for the the meeting agenda & reports which are typically posted 10 days before the meeting. Renters need to call, write and more importantly appear in person to express their demand that there be NO fee increase.
RAP Hearing Recap, February 23:
An estimated 30 landlords appeared, while 3 renters appeared. Also in attendance were employees of the East Bay Rental Housing Association (a rentier group), the RAP program manager, the City Attorney’s staff member designated for the RAP, two hearing officers, and a low-key presence by staff member of the City Auditor. At the prompting of renters, there is an audit being conducted of this self-supporting program – self-supported by renters...
The Role of State and Federal Governments in Today's Rental, Displacement, and Affordable Housing Crises
Part III of a series published in the Oakland Post by OTU co-founder, James Vann.
Oakland's long standing rental and affordable housing crises continue to be locally neglected. And to the shame of local policymakers, the accessible actions detailed in the two preceding installments remain unmentioned.
On its own, the market does not produce either renter protections, affordable housing, nor stem displacement; only governments perform these functions. On its own, the market will not provide housing to meet the growing needs of lower income households which, over time, are the overwhelming share of residents. Competition for scarce available units drives up prices and, in addition, creates greater homelessness, overcrowding, displacement, and other problems associated with not having sufficient rentals and construction of new affordable housing. Oakland badly misinterprets its purpose in repeat announcements that it is the City's responsibility to assure a steady supply of market housing. Without any help from the City, the market will provide expensive market housing. Alternately, unless the City steps forward, there is no one to provide critically needed affordable homes or rental housing.
Federal and State governments are not innocent...
By James E Vann
Oakland’s present rental and affordable housing crisis — which is particularly catastrophic for renters — is not new. Since the late 1970s, crisis conditions have been acknowledged by successive city councils.
Unfortunately, the distinguishing characteristic of the Oakland City Council, today and in previous times, has been that hearing after hearing and proposal upon proposal, the City Council has almost never taken appropriate action.
The crisis has reached catastrophic proportions, and there are many potential actions the council should consider immediately:
1. Enact immediately a resolution declaring a “State of Emergency” in rental housing with moratoriums on rent increases and no-cause evictions until effective protections for tenants are put in place.
2. Rescind and immediately replace Oakland’s current landlord-written Rent Adjustment Program with a proven Rent Control program. This change would virtually eliminate tenant petitions and workload backups and would finally establish equity and fairness in tenants/landlord relations.
3. Establish a cost to evict. Charge landlords $500 for each no cause, owner convenience, or “cash for keys buy-out” eviction; and $200 for each for-cause eviction. Use fees for a fund to assist tenant hardships due to the disruption of moving and relocation.
What term limits? Schaaf re-nominates termed-out landlord member to the Rent Board, and Council re-appoints him.
A decidedly anti-tenant member of Oakland's Rent Board whose term expires this month was re-appointed to the Board on February 2, even though he's served two full terms on the Board. Oakland's rent law is clear that members may serve no more than two terms. Period. (OMC 8.22.040 C)
Landlord representative Benjamin Scott (founder and principal of Advent Properties) has consistently ruled against tenants during his seven years on the Board, which is responsible for deciding appeals from tenants who face illegal rent increases or landlord abuse. Scott has already served two full three-year terms, and has served an additional year until a successor could be appointed. This is allowed under the law's "holdover" provision, but only for a maximum of one year. That year is up this month, yet Mayor Libby Schaaf re-nominated him to another three-year term and the City Council approved the nomination this week.
Mayor Schaaf and Council have skirted the law by appointing Scott as an alternate member. Alternate members are established in the rent law to serve in the absence of a regular member of the same category (e.g. a landlord alternate can represent a landlord member). However, the City's rent law flatly states that "No person may serve more than two consecutive terms." In fact, the law makes no distinction between regular and alternate members when describing the provisions for terms, holdovers, or term limits.
The Mayor has certainly outdone herself, even compared with her past difficulties in following the law when appointing Rent Board members. After the Board repeatedly failed to meet due to a lack of quorum during her first nine months in office, Schaaf finally named Kevin Skipper to the vacant tenant alternate position in October. However, it was quickly discovered that Skipper was actually not a tenant, and so unqualified to serve as a tenant representative, in addition to being a well-known eviction expert who works on behalf of landlords. The Mayor had to hastily retract her nomination after the East Bay Express broke the story.
Now, the Mayor has appointed an anti-tenant member to potentially serve up to another six years as an alternate member. Conveniently, Scott has not been replaced by a new regular member, so his former seat at Rent Board hearings will be filled by none other than himself.
Perhaps the Mayor was simply confused, given that last week a Council committee considered a proposal from Councilmember at-large Rebecca Kaplan, which among other things would have changed the law to allow for regular members to be re-appointed as alternate members once their terms expire (staff report here). However, the CED Committee did not approve these amendments, and is scheduled to hear Kaplan's proposal again next week on February 9. Meanwhile, the City Council has gone ahead and approved the illegal re-appointment anyway.
The charitable view would be that Schaaf (with Kaplan's assist) merely fumbled in a misguided attempt to make Oakland's already broken rent law even worse by allowing for an anti-tenant landlord representative to stay on potentially for a full fifteen years, rather than the six spelled out in the law. To those familiar with Oakland's rigged pro-landlord Rent Adjustment Program, however, the Mayor's action is just the latest pass in a long-running game to protect landlords' interests at the expense of Oakland renters and their communities.