A Mandate for Rent Stabilization

The Message from the Voters Couldn’t Be More Clear

Members of CAUSE and allies rallied on a hot day in June for rent stabilization in the City of Santa Barbara. | Credit: Courtesy

It is no secret that renters have been struggling for years in Santa Barbara, with homelessness growing and many more on the edge of displacement.

Over a year ago, Councilmembers Kristen Sneddon and Meagan Harmon introduced the Community Stabilization Initiative calling for a 2 percent per year rent cap. Since then, the pandemic has caused rents and home prices to spiral to new levels of chaos, disrupting the lives of people living paycheck to paycheck, looking for a solution to survive the housing crisis.

Santa Barbara is notorious for its powerful real estate interests who want to avoid this conversation at all costs. These interests have pushed back this conversation over and over again, even though in every election, our community has made our choice clear for candidates who favor stronger tenant protections.

Since the city transitioned to district elections in 2017, a pro-tenant majority has made up and accurately represented the 60 percent renter majority of Santa Barbara residents, passing popular tenant protections like requiring landlords to have a just cause for eviction.

In 2018, Westside local son Oscar Gutierrez defeated Michael Vidal, a candidate funded by more than $13,000 dollars from landlord PACs trying to prevent stronger tenant protections.

In 2019 Eastsider Alejandra Gutierrez upset incumbent Jason Dominguez, who had stalled the advancement of tenant protection measures at City Hall.

Landlords spent big to influence city elections over and over, only to find that every time, Santa Barbarans made their choice for pro-tenants’ rights candidates.

This year, landlords spent bigger than ever, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a last-ditch effort to avoid the proposed rent stabilization ordinance.

Still, the two authors of the Community Stability ordinance whom they hoped to unseat won their races by huge margins. Kristen Sneddon and Meagan Harmon represent the full spectrum of Santa Barbara voters, with Harmon in the city’s most renter-heavy district downtown and Sneddon in the hillside Riviera district with the lowest share of renters in the city. Yet under an onslaught of advertising from big real estate developers and landlords, both councilmembers won double-digit landslide victories. The message from voters couldn’t be more clear. Even in the mayor’s race, pro-rent-stabilization candidates James Joyce and Cathy Murillo got the majority of total votes, but progressives unseated themselves by splitting the vote, leaving many in the city calling for ranked choice or runoff election reforms.

Now, Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez continue the call of the renter community by bringing a rent stabilization ordinance to the Santa Barbara City Council on December 7 with a proposed 2 percent rent cap. This call is nothing new, rather part of a continued conversation that has not been allowed to fully take place. A conversation that continues the Community Stabilization initiative of more than a year ago, and the countless marches against the unjust displacement of the Santa Barbara renter community years before that.

No more stalling on the voices of renters.

The Santa Barbara City Council needs to move on rent stabilization before more of our neighbors are pushed out of their homes, out of our communities, and onto our streets.

As corporate investors snap up once-affordable buildings to raise rents in this wild, frenzied housing market, we need rent stabilization to preserve our affordable housing stock for all of us to live in Santa Barbara, including the service workers who make this city run.  We must be proactive about stabilizing our communities now more than ever as we all continue to recuperate from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the ending of the emergency financial rent support.

It is time to stabilize rents in Santa Barbara.

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