MORE Facilitated Dialogues on the Way!

The city has announced the return of rent stabilization facilitated dialogues beginning August 15th and wrapping up in September. These topic-focused dialogues will offer the community (tenants and landlords) and opportunity to review and comment on the findings of the city’s rent stabilization consultant. (View the materials.) We will see a return engagement by Sukhsimranjit Singh, who facilitated the earlier round last summer, wherein considerable time and energy was expended. City Council then kicked it over to a consultant for further study. Now tenants and landlords will again have their say.

When City Council last fall expressed an interest in reconvening facilitated dialogues, presumably that meant reprising the roundtable sessions where key issues like the allowable rent increase and relocation fees would again be discussed. But the just-announced dialogues is a bit different: these are community outreach sessions organized around each of the topics that was analyzed by the consultant. Here is the (revised) schedule of dialogues:

Revised schedule for dialogues
Note: this schedule replaces the earlier announced schedule as one date has changed.

This announcement was a surprise: we kept an eye out for a facilitator contract to appear on a Council agenda but none appeared. How could this new series of dialogues progress with the facilitator without a contract? We did the due diligence to see this clause in his 2017 agreement:

Singh 2017 contract excerpt
Singh’s contract allows for an extension at the discretion of the City Manager. No public review necessary.

No new agreement is necessary. Oh, the city’s forethought! Whatever the contractual arrangements, what’s most important is that the city didn’t communicate this next step to residents. NO NOTICE WAS GIVEN TO TENANTS. The dialogues was a foregone conclusion and that fits the rent stabilization policy process pattern to date: months of silence followed by a surprise.

Is Another Dialogue the Appropriate Next Step?

A straw poll taken of seven tenants at last summer’s facilitated dialogue roundtable indicated not much interest in seeing dialogues continue. (Word is that landlords for their part felt the same.)

While the dialogues were useful to explore positions and identify sticking points, consensus on most points was elusive. Landlord representatives at last summer’s dialogues yielded no ground to the tenant position on rent increases (we want it tied to consumer prices) or the tenant position on no-just-cause eviction (we want to end it). We found little receptivity for the tenant position on relocation fees (we want more assistance to those involuntarily displaced) while our position on exemptions ceded scant ground to the landlords who want to exempt as many as 1,110 households from rent caps and relocation fees.

We expected these issues to go to City Council for a decision in the fall. City Council appears to be punting the ball back to us for yet another round. But as early as September 26th Council could take up the final changes to the rent stabilization ordinances. That is less than eight weeks away! Council will decide on the schedule this Tuesday, August 7th at 7 p.m.

What is NOT on the Dialogues Agenda?

There are many issues important to tenants that evidently will not be on the discussion agenda. We have a list:

  • Tighter regulations (with penalties!) for landlords who keep units for short-term rental use only.
  • Regulations that prevent the removal of rental housing for any reason not allowed by state law;
  • A ‘right of return’ for any household that is displaced for an extended remodel;
  • Clarity in local law about violations of a rental agreement that are correctable (in lieu of eviction);
  • Prohibition on rental unit rebates, rent discounts, or other schemes that allow landlords to ‘book’ a rent higher than what the tenant actually pays; and,
  • A brake on evictions and demolition of rental housing before any application for redevelopment or condominium conversion is even deemed complete.

There are many more fixes the city needs to make before City Council tries to wrap-up the rent stabilization ordinance in one go (as the Mayor wants to do). Where is the room for them in this dialogue? It seems like a done deal with many of our concerns left off the city’s agenda.

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