MORE Facilitated Dialogues on the Way!

The city has announced the return of rent stabilization facilitated dialogues beginning on August 15th and wrapping in September. The format is different: these are structured dialogues that adhere to the format of the findings of the city’s rent stabilization consultant. We will see a return engagement by facilitator Sukhsimranjit Singh from last summer’s dialogues and tenants and landlords will again have our say.

When City Council last fall expressed an interest to revive the facilitated dialogue format, we thought that meant more roundtable talks where key issues like the allowable rent increase and relocation fees would again be discussed. That format worked well and it really broke the ice.

But the just-announced round of dialogues is different: these are community outreach sessions rather than dialogues per se; and each is organized around a topic that was analyzed by the consultant and listed in the (revised) schedule:

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

We were surprised by the announcement. We have kept an eye out for a new facilitator contract but none appeared for Council’s OK. So we looked again at the original contract for last summer and there is the clause that brings Singh back:

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

What is frustrating is that no notice was given to tenants (or landlords) and so there was no opportunity to speak up about the new format. This is a city-desired format that fits best with the process staff wants to undertake.

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.

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.

For example, landlord representatives at last summer’s dialogues yielded no ground to the tenant position on rent increases or the tenant position on no-just-cause eviction. We found little receptivity for the tenant position on relocation fees while our position on exemptions in truth ceded little ground to the landlords interest to exempt up to 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.