Mayor Cathy Murillo and Mayor Pro Tem Oscar Gutierrez presented a plan to tighten rent control in Santa Barbara to 2% plus the consumer price index during the Santa Barbara City Council meeting Tuesday. Currently, landlords are restricted from raising rent beyond 5% plus inflation, per state law.
Mayor Murillo, who has one more regular meeting remaining, led the discussion with a sense of urgency. Her impatience may come from her mere weeks left in office or conversations with renters and advocacy groups.
“I just feel like it’s so critical right now,” she said. “Renters that I’m talking to, they’re getting increases where they can’t find a place to live.”
Councilmember Mike Jordan was the first to offer concerns. He saw a memorandum that promised information and heard a plea instead of data. The mayor said tenant-advocacy groups sent information, buried in the approximately 1,000 emails they received.
Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez said she would like to see a needs assessment with recent analysis, given pandemic conditions.
“Some of the housing that we have now is not livable, and we constantly have complaints about property management groups that are not following through. The tenants, they don’t have the funding or the education to fight for their rights,” she said.
She said the relocation assistance ordinance backfired.
“The rents went up, people got evicted, so we have more families living on the streets,” she said.
Ms. Gutierrez said the city needs to invest more in its rental-remediation services, saying nonprofits are overwhelmed with cases.
Councilmember Eric Friedman, whose family moved to Lompoc in the ‘80s for affordability, was worried about losing rental housing stock if landlords sell their properties. This concern was voiced by Santa Barbara Association of Realtors President Brian Johnson in local news articles.
Single-family homes, unless owned by a real estate trust or corporation, would be exempt from the rent cap and duplexes where the owner lives in a unit. Properties built in the last 15 years are also excluded. These terms were set by the state in Assembly Bill 1482; Mayor Murillo says she wants to just lower that law’s limit.
A rent cap only restricts what a landlord can charge a tenant who is renewing a lease. Santa Barbara does not have vacancy control, a limitation on the amount a landlord can raise the rate between tenants.
Mayor Murillo and Mayor Pro Tem Gutierrez also hope the city can establish a rental registry. Mayor Murillo said the registry could help monitor illegal vacation rentals, an issue she called “critical.”
Concerned renters and landlords alike called to share their experiences, waiting for the agenda item for more than six hours.
“It’s really hard to imagine a future here, and I’m saying that as someone who has built a career, a family and a life here for the last 10 years,” Christian Alonso said. “Every year and every rent increase forces me and my partner to consider whether we can continue to stay here.”
Nancy Gottlieb said she lives in one unit of a triplex and doesn’t raise rent for repeat tenants, but she worries about large expenses.
“I sort of feel like I’ve had this property now for 35 years and all of a sudden I don’t have control over how I want to manage it,” she said.
Landlord Katie Hay is frustrated with large out-of-state acceptance rates at local colleges, leading to high demand for rentals.
“Rent caps do not increase workforce housing availability, building workforce housing increases workforce housing availability,” she said.
Others also suggested the city support development.
Discussion was ongoing at deadline.