Viewpoints

SLO officials are spreading fear about the B-17 housing measure — but here are the facts

Proponents of SLO housing Measure B-17 say it will have no negative effect on residential development, including affordable housing projects, and it will lock in city’s ban on rental inspections.
Proponents of SLO housing Measure B-17 say it will have no negative effect on residential development, including affordable housing projects, and it will lock in city’s ban on rental inspections. Tribune file

Reason and actual facts urge San Luis Obispo residents to vote yes on Measure B-17.

The last thing any resident wants is a city official at their front door saying, “I’m here to inspect your house; and if you don’t let me in you will be prosecuted.” Vote yes so it never happens again.

Is it the age of Trump that has led city officials to gin up fear, without telling voters why or how city law or policies actually work or will work?

Sensational claims that B-17 “risks” an unspecified end to affordable housing, inclusionary housing or mobile home rent control are circulated by B-17’s opponents. Unless they can explain how and why that would happen, they should be ignored. Because the claims are not true, they cannot explain why or how.

As lifelong residents, we’re shocked our City Council is generating plainly false “talking-points” seeking power to discriminate. Without journalistic analysis or investigation, The Tribune is blindly parroting that empty false “message.” The Tribune’s hair-on-fire coverage of B-17 is shocking.

Here are the facts:

▪ The City Council only listened to the public after thousands of voter signatures hit City Hall demanding repeal of the invasive rental inspection law. The reason for the original rental inspection ordinance was not safety or neighborhood wellness. It was a disguised tax on tenants, through registration fees, inspection fees, permit fees and fines passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents. Council meetings, from Feb. 16 on, reveal the administration wants to bring back the repealed fees if they can confuse voters into defeating B-17. And fees always go up over time. Your yes vote stops those fees being imposed without voter consent.

▪ Affordable Housing: The city does not manage, control or own any of the affordable housing units in town. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gives community development block grants to California, which funnel through to the county and the city of SLO. If developers of subdivisions and apartments decide not to build any units restricted to a low price, they pay money into the inclusionary housing fund (see below). The only role the city plays is to select what nonprofit organizations have adopted the HUD standards to get the money for renting out or building and selling homes to low income folks. The City Council issues grants from those funds. The nonprofits build, sell or rent based on HUD standards. Initiative B-17 forbids discrimination against people in housing. Nothing in B-17 forbids giving general fund or federal HUD money to nonprofits to build or rent affordable housing.

Affordable housing is not threatened by Measure B-17, though voters may be confused when they look at the ballot arguments against it. Let’s consider political code words everyone understands. When a council member tells a nonprofit administrator or director that B-17 must be defeated or the organization might not get next year’s grant money, that translates into: “You better fall in line to defeat the initiative if you want my vote to give your nonprofit money next year.”

▪ Inclusionary Housing: The city has little to do with inclusionary housing. It does not own it, and does not rent it. It is actually the developers who sell or rent the affordable units, and record their own deed restrictions on those units, in accord with state and federally set standards for income qualification. The city has no role in deciding who gets to rent or buy those affordable inclusionary housing units.

Again, B-17 does not prevent the city from helping people qualify for housing. Developers who take advantage of state-imposed inclusionary housing standards do not bring the city in to discriminate for or against any home owner, renter or income level. And none of the opponents ever asks the more practical question: Would the well-to-do ever want to live in the low-end or modest deed-restricted homes constructed under the inclusionary housing standards?

▪ Mobile Home Rent Stabilization: Opponent’s claim that B-17 would end “discrimination” favoring mobile home owners cynically assumes voters don’t know how this works. Another example of the current city administration’s belief that voters are not intelligent enough to take control of their own city’s housing policies.

Mobile home rent control works like this: It applies to mobile home park owners, and limits the “space rent” they charge mobile home owners. It does not depend on whether the mobile home resident is the owner of the unit, or a renter. Adopting B-17’s prohibition against discrimination between renters and homeowners in housing has no effect because it was carefully drafted so that it would not make any change to the current mobile home rent law.

Vote yes on B-17 to hold back increasing rents and adopt non-discrimination in San Luis Obispo housing law.

Cal Poly professor Allen K. Settle is a former San Luis Obispo mayor and City Council member. He has authored many textbooks on local government. Stew Jenkins is a local attorney; his 38-year practice includes municipal law, estate planning and family law.

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