The Menlo Park City Council is scheduled to consider two options for a tenant relocation assistance policy tonight (Feb. 26).
Alternative A would be a copy of the ordinance passed in Redwood City last year, and would apply mainly to low-income tenants displaced when a landlord decides to permanently remove their housing from the rental market.
Alternative B, which was shaped since the council's Feb. 12 meeting by Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor and Councilwoman Betsy Nash, would require tenant relocation assistance following a landlord-caused eviction or a major rent increase, defined as a rent increase of 5 percent plus that year's increase in the consumer price index. The index is an indicator of the cost of living, and last year it rose 4.3 percent, meaning this trigger would take effect if a tenant moved out in response to a rent increase of at least 9.3 percent. The tenant would need to have lived there for a year or longer; be moving out because they can't afford the rent increase; and not earn more than the area median income.
City staff is also asking that the council decide whether the ordinance should be passed on an "urgency" basis – meaning it could take effect more quickly, but the decision would need to be approved by four of the five council members. Council members would have to decide on the triggers for relocation help benefits, such as owner-caused displacements, no-cause evictions, or in the case of significant rent increases. The council is also expected to consider whether to start a city fund to help pay relocation assistance if the payments pose a "hardship" for the landlord, and whether to start a rent board mediation program.
On Feb. 12, the council held a lengthy public hearing about the proposed ordinance. The ordinance has been the subject of many hours of discussion by the city's Housing Commission over a number of months. In September, the commission held two heavily attended public hearings on the topic, held in Belle Haven and at the Menlo Park Civic Center, receiving about five hours' worth of comment before coming up with its final recommendations.
Many landlords, who identify themselves as "mom-and-pop" housing providers, vehemently oppose the measure. Many take issue with a provision that would require landlords to pay tenant relocation assistance – three months of market-rate rent, or four months for households with children, elderly people or people with disabilities – to tenants who move out following a major rent increase of 5 percent plus the annual increase in the consumer price index.
The idea behind the ordinance is to help people who are priced out of the community -- or who are evicted for no reason -- land on their feet and avoid homelessness as they seek out a new home, according to staff. About 44 percent of all city residents rent, and that proportion jumps to 57 percent in Belle Haven. Between January 2014 and January 2019, the average rent went up 37 percent for one-bedroom apartments (to $3,179 from $2,317) and 24 percent for two-bedroom apartments (to $4,147 from $3,339), according to a staff report.
But landlords argue that the rent-increase trigger would be tantamount to "rent control" because it would deter landlords from charging tenants whatever the market will bear. Legal experts in the community say this is not the case, because landlords can still charge whatever they want.
Other agenda items of interest:
● A discussion of the council's policy priorities and work plan. This is a follow-up discussion to the six-hour "goal-setting" meeting held Feb. 2.
● Potential approval of a two-year contract with Starla Jerome-Robinson as Menlo Park's new city manager. Previous reporting here.
● A successor agreement with the Menlo Park Police Sergeants Association.
The Menlo Park City Council is scheduled to meet tonight starting at 5 p.m. for a closed session, with plans to move into its regular session at 5:45 p.m. The council meets at the council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center. Access the full agenda here or stream the meeting online here.