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    Legislative Mayhem

    By Derek Barnes–

    Eviction moratoriums, rent control, and TOPA (Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) share a common origin: policy. Despite enacting policies to ostensibly mitigate danger and avoid crisis, we are experiencing unprecedented levels of homelessness, rising housing costs, and income inequality in the Bay Area. With so many legislative fixes and regulations cobbled together, why aren’t we seeing the projected outcomes promised by legislators and policy advocates?    

    Crisis can occur with the introduction of bad and unvetted policies. It may be exacerbated by a series of legislative blunders, and without working and trusted oversight, it can lead to disastrous circumstances in the market. For instance, over the last two decades, several financial crises in the U.S. triggered global recessions. Locally, the recent chaos stemming from prolonged eviction moratoriums is another stark example of the failures of radical and untested housing policy that has continuously harmed underserved and vulnerable communities, particularly those of color.

    The recent end of eviction moratoriums in areas like Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco was supposed to mark a fresh start for households grappling with financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the recent expiration of moratoriums threatens to plunge more families, both renters and property owners, into despair and poverty.

    Recent news reports of an “eviction tsunami” make great headlines, but journalists rarely explore the cause(s) or sensible and pragmatic remedies to resolve the crisis. Currently, there is a substantial court backlog due to a surge in eviction filings. However, municipal leaders and legislators could have avoided this with proactive measures. Two years ago, they had the opportunity to gradually modify local eviction moratorium ordinances, eliminating blanket protections for renters capable of paying rent. Instead, they chose inaction, leading to the current backlog in our courts. 

    In Berkeley and Oakland, external interest groups and self-proclaimed housing “experts” from organizations like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE, formerly ACORN) had unmitigated influence in writing eviction moratorium policy and unvetted tenant protection ordinances—having little to no experience building or managing rental property businesses. The lack of accountability for such disastrous legislation is negligent and reprehensible. The fallout from these policies includes:

    • hundreds of millions in unpaid rent;
    • distressed small property owners, who lost their investments and homes;
    • and a paralyzed court system.

    Extended moratoriums have caused severe harm for many, with rental property owners coerced into subsidizing households for an unprecedented 40 months in some areas. Additionally, it has created intractable challenges for renters: huge consumer debt, adverse credit reporting, limited access to future financing, and diminished housing opportunities. Due to regulatory complexities and increased legal ambiguity, taxpayer-funded attorney-led organizations are benefiting from the chaos, leaving property owners without justice or recourse and many lower-income renters more susceptible to displacement. 

    Oakland was one of the last cities in California to lift its eviction moratorium in July 2023. City officials, who now lament the backlog of eviction cases, actively played a role in creating the conditions for this crisis. Overt conflicts of interest within Oakland’s city leadership, as cited in an Oaklandside article on November 7 ( ), make legislative transparency and accountability nearly impossible. Taxpayers unwittingly funding attorney-led nonprofit organizations should be outraged, and it’s time for our media to hold legislators accountable for their irresponsible and misguided decisions.

    For over three years, many small rental property owners sought intervention from policymakers, only to face indifference and disregard. Legislators, solely influenced by tenant attorney-led organizations, did not seek input from property owners, and this has led to a profound set of unintended consequences. Their limited perspective and failure to act created a moral hazard, consumer debt, court case backlogs, and the current eviction filing surge we see today. While most eviction filings today do not result in actual evictions, over 90% are due to non-payment of rent after legislators lifted local moratoriums. Redirecting financial aid to struggling households instead of funding expensive taxpayer-supported tenant attorney organizations is a more cost-effective and pragmatic solution.

    We’ve moved from moratoriums to mayhem, with political leaders’ inept policies causing more harm and greater crisis. Policymakers must develop better housing policies that consider the economic circumstances of critical stakeholders and incentivize affordable housing initiatives—a better balance of carrot and stick. Comprehensive impact analysis, real housing reform, and renter education are essential to foster a more equitable and resilient rental housing market.

    Finding a fitting epilogue for a maze of convoluted policies often at odds with public need and expectation is difficult. Addressing root causes through informed policymaking is crucial to avoid the unintended consequences of misguided housing policies. Engaging subject matter experts and understanding the interconnectedness of critical factors will pave the way for effective housing policies that provide stability for both renters and property owners.

    Derek Barnes is the CEO of the East Bay Rental Housing Association ( ). He currently serves on the board of Homebridge CA. Follow him on Twitter @DerekBarnesSF and on Instagram at DerekBarnes.SF

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    Published on December 21, 2023