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Government Rent control measure unlikely to be on March ballot

San Diego City Councilman George Stevens wants to let voters decide if rent controls should be implemented for the city’s apartments, but the issue won’t make it to the ballot anytime soon.

Stevens asked Councilman Byron Wear, chairman of the council’s Land Use and Housing Committee, to schedule a discussion of a rent stabilization ordinance for the next available committee meeting.

Oct. 23 was the deadline for council members to ask for issues to be considered as ballot measures in the March elections. According to Kirk Mather, the consultant for the city’s Land Use and Housing Committee, Stevens’ request was dated Oct. 25.

“Byron’s response was this is too late to get on the ballot,” Mather said.

Wear suggested the council hold off on discussing rent control to see how other measures the city is using affect the supply of affordable housing, according to Mather.

Stevens said he is using the term “rent stabilization” instead of rent control. Stabilization attaches limitations to rents that are related to an economic variable, like a percentage of the area’s median income, he said.

“Rent control says you can’t do this or that. It’s a more harsh word , it scares people,” Stevens said.

Rent stabilization is necessary, Stevens said, because of the concern he has heard from his constituents in the fourth district, which covers the southeast San Diego communities of Oak Park, Lincoln Park, Skyline, Paradise Hills, and North and South Bay Terrace, among others. The councilman said senior citizens and people on fixed incomes pay up to 75 percent of their income on rent.

“Landlords right now are not using any kind of rationale,” Stevens said. Renters have called and written letters to his office complaining of rent increases, sometimes yearly and sometimes every three months, he said.

“I’ve gotten e-mails from people whose rent doubled in a year,” Stevens said. One woman told him her rent increased by $400 in one month.

Bobbie Christenson, San Diego Housing Commission communications manager and acting director for the commission’s rental assistance program, said, “We haven’t looked into this issue enough to form a policy.”

The housing commission is working with the City Council on a balanced communities policy, which would require inclusion of a certain percentage of affordable housing units in new for-sale and rental housing.

“The City Council directed us to study and come back with a suggestion (on a balanced communities policy), but not on rent control,” Christenson said.

The San Diego County Apartment Association, which lobbies and provides education for the local apartment industry, opposes rent control because it says those types of ordinances limit the supply and hurt the quality of affordable housing.

“Cities that have had rent controls have rental units that end up being converted to for-sale units,” said Scott Blech, executive director of the apartment association. Also, developers are less likely to build new apartment buildings if rent controls are in place, he said.

Rent control also leads to the deterioration of existing apartment buildings, according to Blech.

“There’s no new money to invest in improvements,” he said.

Lower income renters lose out on affordable apartments because they are competing with higher income renters for a decreased number of apartments, Blech said.

Currently, no San Diego County cities have rent controls for apartments. But, several cities require rent control for mobile homes, according to apartment association director of public affairs, Bob Pinnegar.

“The focus ought to be on getting more housing created , more options,” he said. “We’re working with the city on that.”

The apartment association says the shortage of land zoned for apartments, excessive development fees required by cities and lengthy approval periods are barriers to developing affordable apartment buildings.

According to the results of several studies tracked by the apartment association, the following have been the results of rent controls in other cities:

– The number of rental units decreased by 14 percent in Berkeley and 8 percent in Santa Monica, and by 8 percent in Cambridge and 12 percent in Brookline, Mass., while the supply in most neighboring cities increased.

– In Los Angeles, 63 percent of the benefit to consumers of lower rents was offset by the deterioration of apartment buildings.

– New York City estimated a loss of $370 million annually in property taxes because apartment buildings’ assessed values did not increase in the late 1980s.

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