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A group of Richmond tenants and housing rights activists has launched a campaign in support of a local ballot initiative that aims to strengthen the city’s rent control ordinance.

In July, the Richmond City Council voted 5-2 to place Measure P on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election.

If passed by a majority of voters, it would cap allowable rent hikes in the city at 3 percent of a tenant’s existing rent or at 60 percent of the consumer price index (CPI), whichever is lower.

The current rules cap increases at 6 percent or 100 percent of the CPI, which means that at the moment a landlord could initiate a 5.2 percent increase.

“We’re putting in a control on the prices because inflation is going up,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director for The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), which helped the city write and pass the original rent control ordinance.

“Wages are out of whack with housing costs because wages haven’t gone up to match inflation,” Simon-Weisberg said. “Nobody can afford the rents already and it’s not logical to raise the price of housing.”

The proposed changes to the existing rules use the same formula for increases as those recently enacted in Antioch and Oakland and are designed to keep people in their homes while allowing landlords to keep up with rising operational costs, she said.

“I believe Measure P will pass. Fifty percent of our population are renters. I believe our renter population and our homeowner population understand how high rents can displace members of our community.”

Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin

Richmond City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin sponsored the 2016 ballot initiative that passed with 65.27 percent of the vote and led to the existing rent control and just cause eviction rules.

“I believe Measure P will pass,” McLaughlin said in an email. “Fifty percent of our population are renters. I believe our renter population and our homeowner population understand how high rents can displace members of our community.”

Advocates say capping rent increases at lower levels will help ease inflation, keep people from becoming homeless and help keep the city’s neighborhoods stable.

In 2019, 56 percent of Richmond renters were considered “housing burdened,” meaning they spent more than a third of their income on housing costs, according to the Bay Area Equity Atlas.

That is up from 21 percent in 2000.

“We’ve experienced an ongoing housing and homeless crisis, the Great Recession of 2008, a horrific pandemic with loss of jobs for many, as well as the highest inflation in decades and yet another recession,” McLaughlin said. “Our renters have suffered and are continuing to suffer greatly.”