Dear Mayor, Councilmembers, and Housing Subcommittee Staff,
“The cost of rental housing in Milpitas and the region has soared in recent years, as the pace of job growth has far exceeded the rate of housing growth. Housing that has been built is predominantly high-end or, to a lesser extent, subsidized low-income housing. The needs of moderate-income and low-income workers and families too often have been ignored. These trends undermine our social and economic health and cannot be sustained. While Milpitas is working to increase our supply of housing, especially very low, low, and moderate levels, many renters face precarious housing stability.”
No truer or more eloquent words have been written about our current crisis than these expressed by three of our Milpitas City Councilmembers in memos they signed earlier this year.
The Milpitas Housing Subcommittee will be presenting a Pilot Rent Relief Program to the full City Council on September 17. The Milpitas Renters Coalition supports this emergency assistance program, but we respectfully urge the Council to supplement it with the rent control and just cause ordinances that it misguidedly rejected on May 7.
According to the comments of Councilmembers, rent control and just cause were denied in part because they thought the City had the responsibility to assist struggling renters itself, and that the burden should not fall on landlords. The idea of a rent relief program was developed as a way to help tenants that was an alternative to rent control.
Milpitas Renters Coalition supports the Pilot Rent Relief Program 100%. However, we are compelled to point out that this program is not at all designed to solve the problems tenants have been reporting to the City Council, or that the 2018-19 Tenant Protection Task Force was established to address. Like other Bay Area cities, Milpitas is facing a well-documented, long term trend of its rents rising faster than incomes. In fact, the Zumper San Francisco Bay Area Metro Report in May 2019 pointed out that Milpitas rents rose 14.9% in the past year, higher than in any other Bay Area city.
Emergency rent relief programs are simply not designed to address the problem of the long term unaffordable rents that are devastating Milpitas. The draft criteria and guidelines for the proposed Milpitas plan spell that out very clearly. The program is for first month’s rent and deposit assistance, for “one-time emergency relief”, for eviction prevention relief, and for emergency temporary housing for homeless families after they have been evicted. In fact, the application specifies that in order to qualify for this assistance, families have to “demonstrate sustainability”.
That is just the point! This is just what tenants have been telling the City Council for months now. Milpitas rents are NOT SUSTAINABLE. The people of Milpitas cannot afford to pay them. How can they “demonstrate sustainability” when rents are rising at 14.9% a year, while average incomes barely keep up with the 2 to 3% annual cost of living increase?
Make no mistake, we support each and every one of these emergency measures, and urge the Council to adopt them as soon as possible. But they are simply not a substitute for addressing the underlying, long term trends. To address the unaffordability of rents, the City Council has only two choices, either rent control or else a long term subsidy program similar to the federal Section 8 program. The City does not have the resources for an extensive, indefinite housing subsidy program. The only economical and effective solution is to enact rent control and just cause ordinances. These are not “communist” measures as many landlords have charged. They are reasonable business regulations that have been repeatedly upheld as constitutional by California courts for decades.
Without rent control, the current trend of long term Milpitas residents being forced to move out to Gilroy, Tracy, Stockton, or Los Banos will continue. This is destructive to the Milpitas community, its families, its diversity, and to the environment. Our people are suffering. We elect City Councilmembers to make the hard decisions, and now is the time to step up.
Co-Chairs of Milpitas Renters Coalition
(Featured photo caption: Members from the Milpitas Renters Coalition gather before the May 7 Milpitas City Council meeting; two rent protection proposals were rejected by the majority of Council later that night.)