The Truth About the City Council

Affordable Housing and Homelessness in Santa Barbara

Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

During the past four to five years, the mayor and City Council have focused their concerns with renter protections, and only recently with housing the homelessness. In 2017, the council voted to appropriate almost $30,000 for a mediator for the Landlord/Tenant Task Force. In the end, the council did not accept many of the recommendations, despite months of deliberation by the group.

In further disregard of the Landlord/Tenant Task Force, when considering a Just Cause eviction and relocation assistance ordinance, Councilmember Kristen Sneddon requested funding for a study to analyze relocation fees in Santa Barbara. (Understand that this was on the heels of the passage of AB 1482 by the state to have tenants compensated for one month’s rent for Just Cause evictions.) While deliberating the figure of relocation assistance, Mayor Cathy Murillo stated that she wanted the maximum amount to be five to six times the monthly rent. Again, landlords and tenants weighed into the process. The Keyser/Marston study returned with the recommendation of one-and-a-half times rent relocation was fair in Santa Barbara.

Councilmembers Sneddon and Meagan Harmon did not believe that one-and-a-half times the rent was enough, completely disregarding the recommendations. Perhaps a prophetic response came from Alejandra Gutierrez, quoted by the Independent, who said, “I think that we didn’t really acknowledge the study and went by emotions. I think the study really gave us good information, and now thinking about it, I’d like to request that we reopen this agenda item for discussion and really look at the pros and the cons and long-term effect to the city.” Ultimately, the amount of relocation assistance was voted for three times the monthly rent, with Murillo, Sneddon, and Harmon all voting above the study recommendations, and despite City Attorney Ariel Calonne stating that if the amount were challenged legally, he could only defend the study’s recommended amount.

Last year, despite AB1482, which capped rent increases at 5 percent plus Consumer Price Index, Harmon and Sneddon introduced a memorandum called a Community Stabilization Policy Initiative. If enacted, their initiative would allow landlords to increase their rents by no more than 2 percent per year on existing tenants. Once those tenants move out, voluntarily, landlords would be allowed to raise the rents to whatever the market would bear, but with caveats. In no event, could new rents be allowed to be raised by more than 10 percent in any 12-month period, nor could they be increased by more than 30 percent over any five-year period, according to their policy initiative.

Numerous conversations were held with Harmon and Sneddon, explaining that counterproductive initiatives or ordinances such as these, in a highly competitive market, would encourage landlords to tighten their rental criteria and lessen the chances of renting to less than stellar tenants to protect their interests. Consequently, landlords have removed their properties off the market or sold their properties. If a property was sold, new owners raise rents. Property owners, fearing that their properties will be needing future capital improvements, have begun to raise rents, when they would have not done so without threat of more restrictions.

Fast forward to our current homelessness crisis and the council meeting last week. Three million dollars of Measure C monies are being robbed from the voter’s intended use for road and infrastructure repair; instead it will be used to house the homeless. The council is directing the Housing Authority to increase incentives for property owners to accept housing vouchers. They already offer a $2,000 signing bonus. For years, property owners have been disregarded by the council, and while they now direct the Housing Authority to act, this direction is dependent on landlords to accept the vouchers.

Other than financial incentives, which are also offered for any Section 8 tenant, why should property owners help the homeless, when many tenants have been on the Housing Authority waitlist for years, hoping for assistance, in danger of becoming homeless as well? Why should the homeless “jump the line” for tenants who are currently working, or disabled, and struggling to survive? Does the council know that if a property owner needs to apply for a loan, that having even one Section 8 tenant can prevent them from getting loan approval?

Early on, during the pandemic, landlords were told they could not evict tenants for nonpayment of rent, despite no compensation. It wasn’t until later, that rental assistance was passed. Some landlords had to sell their properties, and everyone knows that never bodes well for tenants.

While Murillo, Sneddon, and Harmon are promising tenants that they can demand that affordable housing will be built, they also demonize developers. Who will build this supposed affordable housing and on what land? They cannot continue to promise tenants and the homeless everything, deliver little to nothing, further hurting tenants, and look to the Housing Authority and the county to solve the homeless housing crisis.

There is a larger crisis ahead when our elected officials govern based on fantastical visions rather than reality. The sooner we realize that the mayor and incumbent councilmembers, looking to be reelected, have no plan other than to blame others, then we should vote to give new voices a chance to effect change.

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