The city of Concord will introduce a “rent registry” program to collect rental housing data that will help form future policy decisions and be available to the public.

The unanimous vote by the City Council to move ahead with the registry came after more than three hours of discussion by council members, staff, consultants and the public. Many of them were concerned about making sure that accurate information is obtained from landlords, and that privacy of both landlords and tenants is maintained.

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister said she was concerned the city could be mining information from a city with many landlords when a relatively small number of them are seen as causing problems.

“I don’t know if the registry program is going to get all of the bad apples out of there,” Hoffmeister said.

The rent registry program will require the owners of all multifamily complexes with four or more units to register with the city (affordable housing complexes are exempt from the rent registry). Information will include evictions, units’ square footages, rent costs and how those costs have changed over time.

Mayor Tim McGallian at one point said he was leaning toward not wanting a public portal at all. The main purpose of the registry, he said, was for the city to gather information to help guide policy, not for outside advocacy groups to use for purposes he views as positive or not.

“For us to be dictated to, that’s not how it’s supposed to work,” said McGallian, who along with Hoffmeister feared overreach by the city in seeking data.

But Vice Mayor Dominic Aliano and Councilmembers Edi Birsan and Carlyn Obringer all said there needs to be some manner of public interface. Birsan said he was uncomfortable with the idea of the city collecting data it wouldn’t openly share.

“We do not make policy based on secret data,” Birsan said. However, council members opted to withhold certain specific information they deemed would be privacy violations for landlords or tenants.

A peek at Concord’s ‘real rental landscape’

The rent registry is being created in response to requests from local renters and their advocates for information that could help show whether landlords are carrying out evictions legally and fairly, or whether rents are rising unreasonably. Some advocates of the registry have said it also will serve to show “the real rental landscape” in Concord.

The registry comes under the city’s existing Residential Tenant Protection Program Ordinance. That ordinance is the product of several years of work by the city to respond to concerns among renters and their advocates about the city’s rental housing market, including affordability, availability and tenant evictions.

An estimated 9,700 units in Concord are eligible for the registry. The plan was approved by the City Council in December, and plans are for information to be submitted by July 1. It will be funded mostly by a fee that would be paid by the property owners. The total proposed cost would be $5.25 per unit per year.

Community activists have asserted that the Latinx community has faced the most evictions.

“This registry … positions the city to become a leader in creating data- and equity-driven housing policy,” said Alex Werth of the group East Bay Housing Organizations.

Several landlords and property owners told the council they have concerns about how the information will be made available on the registry, and how it might be “weaponized” against landlords. Much of it, they said, is already available on documents including loan applications. Others said availability of some of the property information could be used to commit fraud. One called it an “outright attack on the housing business in Concord.”

“It makes me think about whether I want to be a landlord in the city of Concord,” Blaine Carter told the council. “I’m disgusted by the fact that you’re not protecting the little guy.”

But Karen Hernandez of the advocacy group Monument Impact said evictions have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tracking them is important, Hernandez said, “to hold (responsible) certain specific landlords who are taking advantage of the ‘other’ little guys.”

Hoffmeister said it is possible that, after a year of analyzing data, it will be seen that Concord rents aren’t rising all that much. She said if that proves to be the case, she hopes the advocacy groups will accept the data.

“This has morphed into much more than I thought when we started down this path,” she said.