An Open Letter to the Oakland City Council: Close the Duplex / Triplex / 4-plex Loophole

Dear Councilmembers,

Tonight, you are being asked to vote on expanding protections for Oakland’s renters. This last step will protect these tenants from rent gouging – a practice that can double, triple and quadruple the cost of rental housing – an ongoing, traumatic practice that continues to impact families and to weaken neighborhoods throughout the city. I want to add my voice to those of tenants who are impacted by this decision and who are calling on you to approve these protections.

As you prepare to vote, you’re going to hear a lot of people speak. Some will urge you to study the matter more deeply. This is not needed. We all have seen the data found in a number of studies done by the County, in the 2018 Equity Indicators Report, and, in reports created for you by your own staff.

Some of us will urge you to vote in favor of expanding protections. You have already heard these voices many times – the voices of Oakland tenants like me who live the reality of the worry and fear that the next rent increase will mean we have to move out of our beloved Town.

Tonight, you will also hear from owner-occupiers who will ask you to vote no or to delay the vote even as they talk about how important it is to them to share their homes in an effort to create community, how they have reduced the median rent by offering below-market rates, and how much they want to make a contribution to improve the housing market.

You will hear stories about how what was meant to be a gracious, communal way of living has been damaged by tenants who treated their property with less care, or those who have otherwise created a difficult living situation. This is a false equivalence. There is a path for those owner-occupiers to follow for legal evictions of tenants that don’t abide by their lease agreements.

You’re going to hear about the complications and expense of maintaining shared and individual living areas in accordance with building codes and the owner-occupiers’ desire to offer a lovely, comfortable, and up to code living experience. This is a false equivalence. There is a path for appropriate rental increases for those who would choose to and/or those who need to make capital improvements to the property.

You’re going to hear that adding restrictions places an unnecessary burden on small owners which would discourage them from renting a spare bedroom or from building an “in law” unit on their property because they won’t be free to make the rent increases in an ad hoc, unrestricted fashion. This is a false equivalence. There is a path for income-connected financing for those who wish to add rental units to existing property.

You will be asked to think about this as an equity matter. You will hear about people of color, retirees, and low income homeowners for whom the rent is their only source of income. You will hear that without the ability to raise rents as needed, they would be at risk of defaulting on their mortgage and taxes. Highlighting the link between the need for uncontrolled rent increases and the relatively stable and predictable changes in mortgages and taxes creates a false equivalence. There are paths for homeowners who find themselves in need of support for home retention assistance during financially precarious times. In addition, the 2018 Equity Indicators Report clearly shows that inequities in housing are primarily found among Black and Latinx tenants who shoulder the burden of rent increases and poor quality housing.

You will hear from experts in the housing development field tell you that this proposal will make the housing crisis worse, not better. You will even hear about a neighboring city which has created exemptions for this very same thing. As a reminder, this is the same city that has revoked overnight street parking privileges for campers, effectively moving unhoused residents beyond their borders.

It is my hope that you will find the clarity of vision to see that the people who need your support at this time are Oakland tenants. Voting to close this loophole will move us forward with housing security so that together we can build toward more equitable housing for all and provide the dignity of a basic human right.

Sincerely,

Rev. Debra Avery

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