Berkeley landlords can now grant below-market rate housing to those displaced by North Bay fires, Hurricane Maria

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Berkeley will temporarily offer below-market rate housing for people displaced by the recent fires in California and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico because of a motion passed unanimously by the Rent Stabilization Board on Monday.

The North Bay wildfires, now the deadliest in California history, erupted in multiple counties last weekend and have been officially declared a major disaster by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The fires burned more than 221,000 acres, causing an estimated 20,000 people to be evacuated from the area. The board passed the motion unanimously, with rent board Vice Chair Paola Laverde-Levine absent from the meeting.

On the rent board agenda, action item 5A2 states that victims displaced from the North Bay wildfires, as well as Hurricane Maria, are eligible for below-market rate housing rentals from willing landlords for a temporary period of time. The regulation was also amended at the meeting to include evacuees from the wildfires in Southern California.

“Although (they) didn’t get as much press (as the) NorCal fires, (there were) also fires in SoCal,” said rent board Commissioner Igor Tregub at the meeting. “I know that the losses were certainly (at) a smaller scale, but people still lost their homes.”

Rent board Chair John Selawsky called the item “vitally important” for people in Northern California.

“(The) thousands displaced in Santa Rosa and elsewhere, they’re going to be looking for housing,” Selawsky said at the meeting. “(It’s) important that we make available whatever housing we can.”

The Bay Area is currently in the midst of a housing crisis and many have expressed concern that the fires, which destroyed at least 57,000 structures, will aggravate the issue. According to the New York Times, Napa and Sonoma counties — which were largely affected by the fires — are two of the furthest behind in terms of housing development, having built less than half of the number of units required to keep up with the growing population.

The agenda item allows disaster victims and landlords to set a time period for below-market rent, after which the rent is raised to a pre-identified market rate. Disaster victims would also have the option of terminating the agreement given 30 days’ notice.

The rent board agreed to provide information regarding the item in a press release.

Item 5A2 is a provision of Regulation 1017, which was adopted after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Regulation 1017 allows for landlords to temporarily rent to disaster victims at below-market rates, but requires the rent board activate it for each disaster.

Recently, the rent board also passed a similar provision to temporarily offer below-market housing for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

“This was our way of encouraging local landlords to be welcoming and to welcome refugees from national disasters,” said rent board Commissioner Jesse Townley at the meeting. “I’m very proud that we are able to help welcome people that are in desperate need.”

“Contact Elena Aguirre at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @eaguirreDC.”