Landlord, tenant share view on rent control
In a refreshingly vicious – and highly entertaining – response to my earlier letter about the case for rent stabilization on vacated housing, Leon Mayeri depicts me and a presumed band of “cohorts” as wanting to “return to the old system” (Letters, June 3).
Actually, Mr. Mayeri might be surprised to learn that my fine landlord and I agree completely on a forward-looking package: Protect tenants through vacancy control, but protect landlords by granting reasonable annual rent increases tied to the inflation rate (or the prime rate).
In fact, my landlord was even more incensed than I was by the Berkeley Property Owners Association’s (BPOA’s) campaign to ban vacancy control. He was motivated to send the BPOA a letter asking them to stop attacking a state legislator who had simply sought to restore local home rule over rent policy.
As for Mr. Mayeri’s presumptions that I inhabit a “gold mine” at a “frozen rent most people only dream of”: My apartment, while very pleasant, is about the size of the phone booth in which Clark Kent of the original Daily Planet changed into Superman. Furthermore, my landlord is in the midst of a major seismic retrofit that will ultimately raise my rent substantially – and I have no quibble with that.
And as for Mr. Mayeri’s remaining accusations about “irrational exuberance,” “hysterical...lunacy and chaos,” and “seeds [of] permanent destruction”: I could respond by that he is no doubt part of a tiny land-owning elite that has enjoyed a 40 percent-plus increase in average Berkeley rents in the last 15 months. An astronomical rate of return, far outperforming our technology-drunk stock market!
But why would I want to do that? Put aside the goofy extremist rhetoric, and there’s plenty of room for Berkeley’s landlords and tenants to live together in peace.
Property owners distort facts about rent control
As president of BPOA, a lobbying organization for landlords, Robert Cabrera continuously assaults Berkeley rent control. In a May 16 op-ed piece (Daily Planet), Mr. Cabrera recycles his side’s myths and distortions. He alleges “developers are loath to invest” in new housing construction because “the City of Berkeley has a full-time paid lobbyist in Sacramento whose No. 1 goal is the repeal of Costa-Hawkins, ...which guarantees that new construction will not be recaptured (sic) by rent regulation...To developers, Berkeley is too politically risky a city to invest in.”
These contentions utterly misrepresent the treatment of new construction throughout the history of Berkeley rent control. To set the record straight: New construction was never “captured” by rent control in the first place. Rents on all units built after enactment of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance have always been free from regulation. That exemption is part of our local law; Costa-Hawkins did not change Berkeley rent control in this regard.
What affordable housing defenders find objectionable in the Costa-Hawkins Act is not what it says about housing that has never been covered by rent control, but what it says about housing that is covered. This unwholesome piece of state legislation took away from Berkeley and other California cities the power to prevent rents on apartments from skyrocketing whenever old tenants move out and new tenants move in. (Rent increases during the same tenancy remain regulated.) Weakening of rent control has substantially worsened Berkeley’s affordable housing crisis at a time when the regional housing situation is becoming graver and graver.
Silicon Valley’s economic boom has generated 200,000 new jobs but only 38,000 new housing units. This disparity has produced a ripple effect causing enormous rent increases across the Bay Area.
Expanding the supply of housing is desirable. But whatever the barriers (reasonable and otherwise) to housing construction may be, rent control is not among them. Because Berkeley is a fully built-out city, land is so scarce here that enough new housing cannot be built to tame wildly increasing rents.
Sensible, effective rent control is more needed now than ever before.
Randy Silverman, Chair, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board
Chris Kavanagh, member, Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission