More than 200 Santa Barbara property owners, landlords and tenants overflowed City Hall on Tuesday evening to speak publicly about strategies for residential tenant protection measures.
As Santa Barbara faces a housing shortage with a vacancy rate of 0.6 percent, the City Council explored five topics including; enhanced tenant-landlord mediation, mandatory leases, apartment safety inspections, just-cause evictions and rent control.
After nearly four hours of public comments, the City Council voted 5-2 to create a task force consisting of landlords and tenants to develop more information about mandatory leases, safety inspections for multifamily residential buildings and just-cause eviction.
Councilman Gregg Hart suggested taking rent control off the list of possible strategies, which were laid out in a staff report prepared by City Attorney Ariel Calonne.
Calonne’s staff report determined 92 percent of city housing stock was built before 1990, and that the “lack of maintenance can discourage reinvestment and can result in depressed neighborhood property values and reduced quality of life in the community.”
“Maintaining existing supply in a slow growth environment is important,” Calonne said. “One steady theme over the years is that preservation of the housing stock in Santa Barbara is an important city objective.”
In 2014, Santa Barbara’s residential vacancy rate was about 0.6 percent, Calonne’s staff report said.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a vacancy rate of 5.0 percent “is considered sufficient to provide choice and mobility.”
Calonne said the city’s population growth rate is small and the household size is steady around 2.5 people.
The expected population growth by 2040 is up to 6,000 people, Calonne said.
“We are looking at a relatively contained growth environment for the foreseeable future,” Calonne said. “That has an impact on the housing market because it will affect how much is needed to produce and preserve.”
Calonne said there were 16,500 multifamily Santa Barbara units in 2014.
“That’s a big number,” he said. “It impacts how to handle inspection or how much city involvement is determined and can be affordable for the community to engage in.”
Calonne highlighted affordable rents for different income levels are necessary.
“Santa Barbara housing is generally affordable to people with moderate income, and that’s close to $90,000 a year,” Calonne said.
In contrast, he said about 57 percent of Santa Barbara households earn less than $75,000 annually.
State law requires the city to provide housing for all income levels in the community, requires assurance that there’s land available to provide the homes, and to provide zoning for the housing, Calonne said.
According to Calonne’s report, while “substantial quantities” of new multiple family homes are being proposed under the city’s Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program, “the existing very low vacancy rate has supported substantial increases in the price of rental housing.”
Santa Barbara is responsible for about 71 percent of the housing on the South Coast of Santa Barbara County, Calonne said.
“My ears are open on the issues of how to make the AUD work better and maintain Santa Barbara as the jewel it is,” said City Councilman Harwood White, who serves as the chair of the Housing Task Force. The city’s task force was created in 1975 and provides information on residential tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities, as well as mediation.
Mayor Helene Schneider stressed the protection from corporate landlords who buy properties and evict tenants.
“There’s no protection from that,” Schneider said. “Our role is to figure out how can we create a set of rules that protect the most vulnerable.”
City Councilwoman Cathy Murillo had a sense of urgency Tuesday night to resolve just-cause evictions, meaning a local tenant protection ordinance that would prohibit landlords from evicting their residents without an allowed reason — such as failing to pay rent, violating the rental agreement terms, breaking the law, or the need to make considerable repairs on the property.
Some landlords told the council they maintain their properties and care about their tenants.
“Most landlords are good landlords,” said Stephen Brown, principal and founding partner at Radius Commercial Real Estate & Investments.
Before the City Council meeting, more than 50 tenant rights advocates gathered to rally for regulations that would protect working-class immigrant residents from being forced out by rising rents in Santa Barbara.