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After more than a year of trying, the Antioch City Council has passed a rent stabilization ordinance to the cheers of renters and advocates, many of whom say rising Bay Area rents have them on the verge of homelessness.

The council narrowly approved the proposal by a 3-2 vote at its Aug. 23 meeting, with Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barbanica and Councilmember Lori Ogorchock dissenting.

“Rents have been slowly on the climb in Antioch since 2017,” Councilmember Tamisha Torres-Walker said. “And though Antioch is still the most affordable place to stay in the Bay Area, if we don’t do anything right now — tonight — to meet the demands of the community, that will no longer be the case. So I’m here to support all the demands of the community.”

The new ordinance will cap rent increases in the city to 3 percent of their rent, or 60 percent of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Area, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, whichever is less.

The ordinance will allow one rent increase within 12 months.

More to come

“This is the first part of our overall renter’s protections — rent control — that I’ve proposed,” said Mayor Lamar Thorpe. “Just cause and anti-tenant harassment policies will be coming after this. So there’s two more opportunities to solidify these protections in the city of Antioch.”

Barbanica said he wanted to stop rent increases that, in some cases, are jumping 30 percent or more, which he called outrageous.

But Barbanica said the biggest hikes are coming from larger corporate property owners, not the “mom and pop” landlords who rent one or two units and try to keep up with inflation.

He supported eliminating loopholes in state laws frequently exercised by corporations and having Antioch fashion a law more in line with California’s 2019 Assembly Bill 1482, which capped rent increases statewide at 5 percent annually, plus any rise in CPI not exceeding 10 percent.

“I support us doing something, but don’t support us going down to where it’s harming, not the corporate folks; I’m talking the mom and pops,” Barbanica said.

Thorpe said smaller landlords won’t have problems.

“I know a lot of Mom-and-Pop renters and they always remind me that they never raise their rents beyond a reasonable amount,” Thorpe said. “So I’m always at a loss as to how they will be impacted. And every time I ask that question, no one can ever come up with a response as to how this law will impact them in a negative way.”

Some owners will be exempt, including those owning single-family homes without an accessory unit, condominiums and cooperatives. Units first receiving a certificate of occupancy after Feb. 1, 1995, are also exempt from the city ordinance.

Tenants and housing rights activists march in opposition to rent hikes at the Casa Blanca Apartments in Antioch on July 21, 2022. (Photo by Kiley Russell/Bay City News)

Tenants and tenants’ rights advocates came out July 21 at the Casa Blanca Apartments on Claudia Court, where more than 70 people gathered to show frustration with rent hikes as high as 30 percent at the complex and its sister property, Delta Pines.

City’s options limited

Activists say about 150 people were given rent increase notices at both properties, and many could end up homeless. Advocates asked the council for an emergency ordinance freezing rent increases and a moratorium on evictions, actions the council said it couldn’t do since Antioch — unlike charter cities like Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond — are general law cities without the same flexibility to enforce rent moratoriums without the state’s backing.

The city will also likely have to designate an office or a department to handle complaints about alleged violations of the ordinance. The office would also hear landlords’ petitions for higher rent increases “to obtain a fair and reasonable return on the landlord’s property.”

According to a staff report, Antioch has 49,236 employed residents, two-thirds of whom earn less than $50,000 per year. Household income disparity is even more prevalent for Antioch seniors, 41.2 percent of whom are people of color “who often live on fixed incomes and are more likely to have disabilities, chronic health conditions, and/or reduced mobility,” the report says.

The largest proportion of senior households who rent are extremely low-income and approximately 40 percent of Antioch’s large family households are “cost burdened,” almost half of which are “severely cost burdened,” meaning the households pay more than half of their income on housing,” according to the report.

The ordinance would also allow tenants to recover damages from landlords and allow criminal prosecution of those not in compliance.