County will pursue rule requiring just cause for evictions

08/03/2017

An ordinance requiring just cause for evictions has risen to the top of the list of a suite of measures Marin County is considering adopting to address the affordable housing crisis.

Supervisors stayed after the end of their regular meeting on Tuesday for a special meeting focused on four programs in the works to address the county’s affordable housing crisis. The programs were among 11 for which the Board of Supervisors gave its staff a green light to research as part of a comprehensive strategy.

On Tuesday, supervisors heard a report from staff and listened to input from community members, many of whom spoke in support of a just-cause ordinance in particular. 

Commentators told heart-wrenching stories of evictions that left them scrambling, and representatives from organizations such as the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, the San Geronimo Housing Association and the Bolinas Community Land Trust expressed the need for such an ordinance. 

“We regularly hear from our immigrant clients in Marin that they are more concerned about eviction than about deportation,” a representative of Legal Aid of Marin said. “There needs to be a system to offer renters more protection.”

Kim Thompson, executive director of CLAM, described a just-cause ordinance as essential “to creating stability within our communities.” 

The ordinance would prevent “no fault” evictions and provide renters with greater security. Landlords could still terminate a lease for valid reasons as defined under state law, including owner move-in, non-payment of rent, nuisance to landlords or other tenants, damage to the building, illegal activity or violation of the lease agreement. 

Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of pursuing the development of an ordinance, but some questioned whether the ordinance needed to be paired with rent control regulation. 

A staff report prepared for the meeting included a list of jurisdictions with just-cause ordinances in the Bay Area, about half of which also have rent stabilization regulations. 

Besides voting to move ahead with a just-cause ordinance, supervisors voted to amend, and delete, some programs or aspects of programs they said had become obsolete to make room for new initiatives. 

Supervisors voted to pursue hiring technical assistance to evaluate and facilitate the acquisition of affordable housing units, one of the 11 programs approved last year. Since that approval, the county has contributed financing through its Housing Trust Fund to acquire properties and preserve them as affordable housing units, including apartment buildings in Fairfax and Stinson Beach. 

To expedite the property vetting process, the board directed staff to partner with a local organization that will prepare feasibility analyses and budgets, identify short and long-term expenses and explore creative financing solutions as needed. 

District Four Supervisor Dennis Rodoni contributed his support for adding staff and expertise to the acquisition program. He also noted that “it may be necessary to have someone dedicated explicitly to West Marin, who understands the particularities of the local market.” 

The board also voted to rearrange some budgetary allocations in its landlord partnership program, which has helped house 52 families since September 2016. The program contributes funds for security deposits and increases access for participants in the Section 8 housing choice voucher program. Supervisors were in support of reallocating $135,000 dedicated for a voluntary rent guidelines program, which staff said has largely been usurped by new state laws, to the landlord partnership program for security deposit assistance, loss mitigation and vacancy loss coverage.   

The board voted to pursue another potential initiative, an alternative to voluntary rent guidelines: a mandatory mediation ordinance, which would provide mediation services for a variety of issues, including rent increases above a certain percentage and lease terminations. 

Supervisor Rodoni highlighted the mandatory mediation ordinance as a priority. He also suggested that CLAM’s Real Community Rental Program, which focuses on providing affordable rental housing for local workers, be considered for additional county funding as well.  

Staff and supervisors also agreed that the county’s second unit amnesty program, which allows unpermitted second units in unincorporated Marin to be brought into compliance, is now obsolete due to state laws adopted at the beginning of the year. Since second unit restrictions have loosened, the county can facilitate the legalization of existing units without the amnesty program. 

Yet Adrianne Dar, executive director of the Bolinas Community Land Trust, expressed some concern about losing the program, as many people in Bolinas live in illegal second units. She added that the land trust has been collaborating with the Community Development Agency to reduce the cost of upgrading septic systems by roughly 40 percent, which she said would greatly contribute to the affordability of legalizing second units. 

Lastly, supervisors re-evaluated the county’s housing overlay designation policy, which is intended to encourage the construction of new affordable housing on vacant or underused sites, known as “infill” sites. A board subcommittee will work with staff to revise the program in coming months, including considering how to ensure that development is explicitly residential as opposed to commercial and expediting the planning process. 

One landlord, who noted that he was a minority among the renters who spoke, was strongly in favor of the landlord partnership program and other county initiatives. But, he said, “the real problem here is supply, and that needs to be addressed… We will all benefit when there’s a healthy rental market.”