A controversial proposal to rein in astronomical rent increases in Redwood City fell flat Monday night after the City Council unanimously opted to focus on other alternatives to curbing the effects of the regional housing crisis.

The City Council hosted a joint study session with Housing and Human Concerns Committee, which was tasked to meet with local residents and stakeholders before making recommendations on how to address tenant concerns and the high cost of living.

The process of considering a moratorium on steep rent increases also led two of its appointed committee members to resign shortly before the meeting.

The committee had unanimously proposed various options, including that the city consider a short-term freeze on rent increase of more than 7 percent or 10 percent. Although councilmembers noted a moratorium too closely resembled rent control, they did express support for other ideas — such as encouraging longer lease terms, enacting a non-binding mediation program for landlord-tenant disputes, considering a means-based relocation assistance program and helping seniors as well as those with special needs identify housing options.

“The issue of affordable housing is an issue bigger than the City Council, it’s an issue that our entire community, our nonprofits, our faith organizations, our community groups, the county, the city, developers, we all need to be coming together to figure out the solution,” Mayor John Seybert said after the meeting. “[Monday] night was another great step in the right direction of our community trying to figure out the best solution.”

Seybert and other councilmembers noted the rent increase moratorium was essentially a form of rent control and not an option they’d like to explore. The proposal to regulate the price of rental housing remains a heated topic throughout the Bay Area with voters in San Mateo, Burlingame, Mountain View, Alameda and Richmond considering such provisions in the upcoming election.

The process of considering options to address the housing crisis in Redwood City also led two Housing and Human Concerns Committee members to abruptly resign Monday night.

Committee members Cherlene Wright and Tiauna George gave up their positions, noting in their resignation letters they felt the council was too closely regulating the committee and politicized the process to the point of overlooking the best interests of the citizens.

“We felt like our job was to represent what the community was asking for at the meetings,” Wright said after the meeting. “The things that we heard loud and clear was that the increases and the evictions were essentially a gentrification of Redwood City and has caused hardship.”

The committee hosted two public forums since being directed earlier this year to consider various policies related to housing. But after reportedly being told by staff in September that the council did not want rent control on the table, Wright said she grew concerned. The tension was exacerbated in September when George’s position as vice chair of the committee was given to another member at the alleged request of a councilmember, she added.

“We felt like our job was to represent what the community wanted, not tell the council what the council wanted,” Wright said.

With the city having approved thousands of new high-end housing units in downtown yet ensured minimal affordable units were built, Wright said she’d hoped the council would consider a moratorium as a temporary stopgap.

Seybert said he was very surprised by the committee members’ decision and hoped they would have reached out with their concerns prior to resigning as he valued their work. But, he noted most of Redwood City’s seven councilmembers have been consistent in their views on rent control.

“I don’t see a distinction between [a moratorium on rent increases] and rent control. And, rent control is proven not to work. It doesn’t treat everyone fairly, including everyone on the tenants’ side fairly, and doesn’t treat everyone on the landlords’ side fairly,” Seybert said. “Our council across the board has spoken in opposition of rent control, this isn’t something new. So I don’t see the difference.”

Redwood City isn’t alone in refusing to regulate rents. Residents in San Mateo and Burlingame have opted to head to the ballot after their councilmembers decided not to impose such regulations.

Like others, Redwood City officials are instead looking at alternate options. The council directed staff to continue studying a relocation assistance program whereby landlords might have to pay lower-income tenants who are forced to move. They may also consider having landlords provide longer-term leases as a way to limit the frequency of rent increases. Staff was directed to consider a mediation program whereby landlords and tenants could voluntarily go to resolve disputes, so long as the results wouldn’t be binding.

Councilmembers also sought to study an inclusionary zoning policy that could require developers of for-sale multi-family housing to include affordable units on site, as well as options to incentivize developers to build below-market rate housing.

While the council primarily suggested staff study these policies, such as what it would cost to implement, some questioned whether help would come soon enough for those struggling.

“I really am feeling a little uncomfortable with just how urgent most of the people in those forums seemed to feel the housing crisis was,” said committee member Margaret Becker, according to a video of the meeting.

samantha@smdailyjournal.com

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(Copy Right: October 26, 2016, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal)