Last night on 4/2/19: Tenant protections was the hot topic at the Milpitas City Council meeting.
In a nutshell: Council couldn’t take any real action, as they feel that further discussion and study need to take place in order to determine the next move. (Not to mention the fact that any action taken needed to be on the agenda for it to have legal weight.)
The presentation: City Staff made a presentation to Council, based on their work with the Tenant Protection Task Force, which met for 6 months between September, 2018, and February, 2019. Although the Task Force was initially formed with the intention of creating key tenant protections, the landlord reps and tenant reps on the Task Force were very far apart in their visions. While the tenants wanted to focus on rent control and just cause, the landlords wanted to focus on things like educating renters.
So in the end: Staff brought Council the core values that tenants and landlords were able to unite around, which, expectedly, wasn’t really a whole lot — and boiled down to both sides noting that Milpitas is a caring, compassionate community that wants to help others.
As for Public Comments: It was a full house, with many tenants, landlords, and community members coming up to share their perspectives. At the top of the item, Mayor Rich Tran set the tone by asking everyone to listen and be respectful of each other: “Let’s show some love to the people here tonight even though we may have different opinions or perspectives,” Mayor Tran said to the packed room.
The tenants: Some tenants got up to share their own personal stories about unfair rent hikes. Others in the community got up to demand that an emergency ordinance be enacted immediately to protect tenants. Some speakers mentioned that they were disappointed that the Council was not presented with any ordinances to act upon.
The landlords: Some landlords got up to speak on their fear of what might happen to Milpitas if rent control came into play here. A few mentioned that San Francisco has rent control — and homelessness and crime along with it. Others simply stated that they don’t want government dictating what they can and can’t do with their properties.
All in all, over 50 people got up to speak. Roughly 52% of people who spoke were in support of protections like just cause and rent control. The other 48% were largely against it. Among that 48% were also a few community members who struck a balance, saying they empathized with both sides.
Council’s side of things: After everyone spoke, it was the Council’s turn. The basic consensus was that they wanted to take a more “holistic” approach to addressing the issue, so that they could truly get to the root of the problem, which has a great deal to do with the lack of affordable housing options in the region. In the end, it all amounted to Council needing more time, research, and data to make the best decision possible. But it was agreed that Council should take the reigns from here, and that the work of the Task Force is done.
Mayor Rich Tran mentioned that the topic was worth the discussion, and that he needed more time to further analyze it and figure out the best decision.
Councilmember Bob Nuñez brought up the fact that the ability to pass any type of urgency ordinance wasn’t there. City Attorney Chris Diaz confirmed that statement, mentioning the Brown Act and how the item would need to be on the agenda for it to be acted upon.
Nuñez also mentioned the idea of the Milpitas Unified School district, Santa Clara County, and the City of Milpitas working together in partnership to find homes for families in need.
Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez brought up something that many were probably thinking about: “I definitely know what you think about government. It’s the white elephant in the room, right? It’s a lot of talking and no action.” But she did go on to say that she understands that families are struggling, and stressed the importance of looking at the issue holistically. She also wanted City Staff to look into how much a code enforcement officer would cost, as well as to see what further support and collaboration Project Sentinel* could provide. (*Project Sentinel is an organization that the City contracts with to help with landlord and tenant issues.)
Councilmember Carmen Montano brought up the need for “comprehensive information to make sound decisions.” She spoke of brainstorming and thinking outside the box — maybe even having a Housing Commission to deal with certain issues (something she has brought up before).
“Other cities are paying millions for staff or code enforcement, but with the Housing Commission, you have the community involved,” said Councilmember Montano.
She also brought up the fact that people can’t afford to live here anymore, and that sometimes city governments are part of the problem in that water and garbage rates are often raised. She mentioned that our City is looking for ways to create a life line so that they can help people afford their water bills. She also mentioned the idea of having a registry and putting the people who are in desperate need of housing on a waiting list. Finally: Montano ventured the idea of the City buying and managing the Sunnyhills Apartments, an affordable housing community that was saved in 2017 when the City worked with the owner to extend its HUD contract for another 5 years.
During his turn to speak, Councilmember Anthony Phan said, “To expect us to have a concrete solution to the housing crisis today is not realistic.” He spoke of how income inequality rigs the system, and how you can’t address the crisis without addressing income inequality. He mentioned that looking at long-term solutions was necessary, and that the City should work to provide opportunity and resources. Notably, he doesn’t believe that the City should “be in the business of regulating business.”
In the end: After two and a half hours of presentation, public comment, and discussion, Council was ready to move on to the next item. They voted to receive Staff’s report, and to increase Project Sentinel’s contract by $10,000, in the interest of more outreach and engagement. But as far as taking action on the issues that some Milpitas tenants are currently grappling with, the Milpitas City Council was simply not ready to offer an effective and sustainable solution.
Until next time…