The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on local tenant protection laws for the unincorporated areas of Alameda County on Feb. 28. However, there is increasing concern that the hard-fought protections will not be adopted due to a lack of support from the board by a razor-thin margin.
Given the uncertainty of the fate of the tenant protections, activists from Moms 4 Housing, a collective of unhoused and marginally housed mothers, performed a sit-in during Tuesday’s board meeting and eventually shut the meeting down.
“Housing is a human right and we believe that all of Alameda County should have protections,” member of Moms 4 Housing and Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner Dominique Walker said. “We don’t need any more families on the streets.”
Four mothers participated in the sit-in, out of which three were arrested, according to Walker, adding that she herself was taken to Santa Rita Jail and released later that night.
If the protections are not passed, 10,000 renters and their families are at immediate risk of a “violent eviction,” according to Walker. Some may have until the end of May to find alternative housing, she added.
In the unincorporated areas, people are allegedly experiencing “horrible, uninhabitable conditions,” illegal rent hikes and illegal evictions, according to Sasha Perigo, spokesperson for East Bay Housing Organizations.
Perigo alleged that 60,000 renters in unincorporated areas do not have any local tenant protections and state laws are not enforced.
In fact, the board had voted in favor of the protections Dec. 20, however, they needed to be voted upon twice before becoming law under county board rules. The recent election of District 3 Supervisor Lena Tam in November, who has yet to say how she will cast her vote, has raised concerns about whether the protections will ultimately pass.
“I hope that she will listen to her constituents and the renters and that she will come to a decision that is best for her constituents who are majority renters,” Perigo said. “There’s definitely a very real chance that it might not pass.”
The board was set to cast its second vote Tuesday, but the vote was postponed by a supervisor, likely because they did not have the votes to pass the protections, according to Perigo.
According to Perigo, the California Apartment Association, which Perigo called a “landlord lobby,” spent $225,000 on independent expenditures in support of Lena Tam and $240,000 in opposition to her opponent, which Perigo alleged “raises questions.”
However, Tam assured that she won her election with the support of her constituents.
“Over three hundred individuals and groups supported my election because I am thoughtful, thorough and fair-minded,” Tam said in an email.
Over the past four years, a group of renters in unincorporated areas have been fighting for a comprehensive tenant protection package consisting of six tenant protections: rent stabilization, just cause for eviction protections, an anti-harassment ordinance, proactive rental inspections, a rental registry and a fair chance ordinance, Perigo said.
Perigo noted that the county planned to implement these policies in three phases. The first phase includes the just cause for eviction protections, the rental registry and the fair chance ordinance.
She emphasized that many in the unincorporated areas are people of color, undocumented and non-English speaking, noting that the area is “disproportionately impoverished” compared to the rest of the county.
The unincorporated areas consist of about 120,000 residents in the county who do not have a city and have around 60,000 renters, according to Leo Esclamado, co-director of My Eden Voice. This includes the areas of Ashland, Cherryland, San Lorenzo and Castro Valley.
“The policies will eventually pass,” Esclamado said. “But with the makeup of this board, it’s going to be a lot tougher even to just ask for basic rights.”
Esclamado alleged that the unincorporated areas have been “left out” due to redlining and structural racism. However, he described the areas as “pretty diverse, vibrant and working class.”
Perigo echoed Esclamado’s sentiments, saying she is optimistic that with time and an increased spotlight on this issue, the protections will ultimately pass.
“Folks in Oakland and Berkeley do have more rights than folks in the Eden area,” Perigo said. “We all deserve a safe and affordable place to live wherever in the county we live.”
Tam said the postponement of the discussion of the eviction moratorium and tenants protections was “unfortunate.”
Tam explained that her intent was to ask questions of staff to better understand the provisions of the protections.
“As the newest member of the Board, I ask the public to allow me the time I need to make an informed decision about these very important issues,” Tam said in the email. “I am deliberate and thorough. I will make the right decision for the people I represent.”
The board will meet again Feb. 28 to discuss and cast its concluding vote on the eviction moratorium and on the tenant protections.