San Jose city leaders once again rejected a proposal to link rent hikes to inflation, which advocates hoped would offer some relief to cash-strapped tenants. The 6-5 City Council vote on Tuesday keeps the 5 percent cost ceiling on all rent-controlled apartments, which comprises about a third of San Jose’s rental stock.
The council also voted to allow tenants to add more people to the lease without risking eviction. From now on, the limit comes to two adults per bedroom and no limit on the number of children. But city lawmakers killed an idea from Councilman Don Rocha to study the possibility of bringing 11,000 duplexes under rent control.
On the losing end of the vote were council members Rocha, Sergio Jimenez, Sylvia Arenas, Raul Peralez and Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco. The debate split the council along the business-labor divide and pit market fundamentalists against those arguing for protections against the exacting toll of “whatever the market could bear.”
Landlords organized under the aegis of the Bay Area Housing Network taped up fliers calling renter-friendly council members—namely Jimenez, Arenas and Rocha—“communists” and comparing them to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
“Today they control your property, tomorrow they cut off your head!!!” read one of the leaflets, signed “Dr. Silicon Valley.” Another labeled the same three councilors “North Korea Undercovers,” and called to “Defend San Jose Against Evil Communists!!!”
Mayor Sam Liccardo, who voted to maintain the status quo of 5 percent, said he fears that imposing more regulations will force landlords to quit the rental business or result in properties falling into slum-like disrepair. He also described the rent control ordinance as “a very limited tool,” because it only applies to apartments built before 1979—although the mayor opposed Rocha’s plan to expand it to older duplexes.
Other opponents of lowering the rent control cap argued that the city should focus on building more housing instead of imposing price controls. “Building low-income housing is the only sure way of providing low-income housing,” Councilman Johnny Khamis said, eliciting applause.
Councilman Tam Nguyen, who supported stronger tenant protections in the past, voted to keep the 5 percent cap while slamming the city’s housing staff for supposedly diverting its attention from building more units. During deliberations, he summarized his position by suggesting that he came to his decision out of spite.
“In conclusion,” Nguyen said, “I will stay at 5 percent for the wrong reason: because nobody listened to me.”
Councilman Peralez clapped back by reminding Nguyen that new housing takes years to build and that with thousands of homeless people on the streets, waiting a decade for new units can’t be the only solution. Peralez also called out Nguyen for railing against city staff when he recently rejected an affordable housing project.
“Certainly, you should live up to your own advice,” Peralez said, “and should be supporting … these affordable housing units.”
Tenants, for their part, cautioned that pricing out the poor would push more people onto the streets and rob lower-income residents of the chance to gain financial stability. They spoke about the intersection of race, housing and how living up to San Jose’s reputation as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants meant supporting price stabilization for low-income residents. Homeowner Vera Sloan, an activist for STAND and Standing Up for Racial Justice, said supporting price controls also helps victims of violence.
“I was 8 years old when my mother was groped by our apartment complex manager and had to explain to me that we couldn’t move away from him because there were so few other places in our area that she—as a single, working mother—could afford,” Sloan told the council. “A few weeks ago, I stayed several nights in a local homeless shelter helping care for a medically fragile infant born to an un-housed woman who was the victim of gendered violence, who had tried unsuccessfully, throughout her pregnancy, to find housing she could afford. Two newborn babies like hers died last year living on the streets of Santa Clara County.”
Since 2016, tenant advocates have successfully lobbied the city to ban no-cause evictions and require landlords to pay relocation benefits. But they wanted to revisit a proposal to lower the rent control cap by tying it to the consumer price index, which has topped out at less than 3 percent in the past five years.
Alex Carballo, a North Valley renter, noted that inflation makes more sense as a benchmark, given that housing costs have skyrocketed while wages stagnate. A recent study by labor think tank Working Partnerships USA found that rent increases have risen four times faster than wages in Silicon Valley.
“Landlords have been benefitting by pillaging the pocketbooks of the working class for a long time,” Carballo told the council.
Jacky Morales-Ferrand, who heads the city’s Housing Department, listed several other major cities that tie inflation to rent control, noting that it did not “drive out small business” in those jurisdictions. Los Angeles aligns its rent hike cap to inflation, with a 3 percent floor and 8 percent ceiling. San Francisco limits it to 60 percent of inflation with a 7 percent max; Santa Monica caps it at 75 percent, and Berkeley at 65 percent.