Oakland Coalition Puts Renter Protections on the November Ballot


In the face of massive displacement pressures—the byproduct of the Bay Area’s white-hot tech economy—a powerful community-labor coalition secured a significant victory for Oakland renters last month. On July 19, in a dramatic city council session that lasted well into the early morning hours, a broad and diverse coalition of housing and tenant advocates, labor unions, and community leaders rallied over a hundred people to speak in favor of placing a tenant protection referendum on the November ballot. After four hours of debate, what was initially pegged as a close vote turned into a near unanimous decision favoring the referendum authored by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan as well as a companion ordinance from Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Abel Guillen, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and Annie Campbell Washington bolstering tenant protections.

Advocates pushed to incorporate strong equity provisions into both the council-adopted ordinance (7-1 voted in favor) and the ballot referendum (unanimously approved by the Oakland City Council). If Oakland voters approve the ballot measure this November, it will supersede any similar provisions in the adopted ordinance.

Oakland prides itself on its working-class roots and status as one of the most diverse cities in America.  Both those qualities are imperiled by the unprecedented wave of increased housing costs that have rocketed Oakland up to the fourth highest rent in the nation, ahead of Boston, MA.  In a city where economic inequity falls heavily along racial lines, a demographic exodus of low-income people and households of color is reshaping the face of the city.  With Uber set to expand its headquarters into downtown Oakland in 2017, housing costs are only expected to increase.

Seeking to implement urgent protections to stabilize neighborhoods vulnerable to gentrification, PolicyLink joined with the Committee to Protect Oakland Renters, which also included the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Oakland Tenants Union, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, East Bay Asian Youth Center, East Bay Housing Organization, SEIU Local 1021, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and the Ella Baker Center. 

If Oakland voters approve the ballot in November, the referendum would shift the burden from renters to landlords to petition for rent increases above the Consumer Price Index.  It also expands “just cause” eviction protections to buildings constructed through 1995, meaning that building owners could only evict tenants only for violating the terms of a lease or for violating the Ellis Act (currently the cutoff date is October 1980). Another key reform is expanding the powers of, and increasing, tenant representation on the Rent Board, while providing transparent data through a rent registry. Oakland joins an array of Bay Area jurisdictions making the push to implement neighborhood stabilization measures via ordinances, ballot measures, affordable housing bonds, and other interventions.

“After seeing what’s happened across the bay in San Francisco, we can’t afford to wait any longer to put in place common sense measures to ensure that working families are able to secure housing amidst the housing affordability crisis in Oakland,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, who served as treasurer for the coalition. “Housing affordability is at the heart of the right to advance equity.  We are seeing far too many longtime Oakland families lose their grip on their homes precisely at the moment when long-awaited opportunity infrastructure is finally arriving."