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OP-ED: Getting the foxes out of the henhouse
February 23, 2016, 05:00 AM By Cynthia Cornell

Cynthia Cornell

On a national level, we are seeing more and more outrage at the dilution of our democracy by the vast amounts of PAC money being thrown at our elected officials and candidates for office. What is happening nationally is also happening locally, and it is to our detriment to ignore it. 

In attempts to address the immediate and enormous housing crisis on the Peninsula, the county of San Mateo and a few cities have formed “blue ribbon” committees and task forces to explore solutions to the rental crisis and lack of affordable housing. The county and cities invite tenants, housing nonprofits and Realtor and landlord lobbyists to these committees to help explore solutions. Invariably, the only real answers to the immediate crisis — rent stabilization and just cause eviction protections — are tossed aside as unworkable. Unworkable for whom, is my question. 

The San Mateo County Association of Realtors and the California Apartment Association try to present themselves as grassroots organizations, but are better defined as astroturf. They have self-serving goals — to increase the profits and political clout of their members — not to maintain the stability of our communities. These organizations contribute great amounts of money to the campaigns of their favored candidates in every city, county, state and federal election. Add to this the fact that many elected officials directly or indirectly profit from rental property, and we are faced with enormous obstacles to protect renters who make up anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of the county’s population who, along with homeowners, are the real grassroots.

The single solution that these task forces and committees come up with is to build more affordable housing — someday. This is a huge red herring. As we read again and again in the news, developers are being allowed to build luxury rentals rapidly, even on city-owned land. Rather than include affordable units, they donate a few million here and there for the cities to build their own affordable housing, which the cities cannot afford or don’t have the political will to build.

Even if the stars all aligned, we cannot build enough affordable housing to sustain our county’s needs. Already we are losing teachers; we have no substitutes for classrooms; first responders live across the Bay or even farther away; elderly people are disappearing from the Peninsula, many becoming sick or dying from the stress of moving. As families move further east, they leave their children alone more hours of the day as they clog the freeways to get to their jobs here — medical assistants, caregivers, city and county employees, office workers, chefs, hairdressers and retail staff. Homeowners find their adult children cannot move out, or have moved far away along with the grandchildren. We are creating more social problems in other cities as we displace more and more of our long-term renters. And the Peninsula is losing its character and integrity along the way.

Renters all over San Mateo County have been humiliated, maligned, neglected and insulted by some members of their own city councils, many of their landlords, SAMCAR and CAA. Treated as second-class disposable people and having virtually no housing security, most of them are afraid to step up and speak out about their fear, increased impoverishment and conditions of their rentals. They fear losing their homes and often consequently their jobs, churches, medical providers and schools. A big consequence of this is their lack of participation in our local democracy, which only serves the goals of the lobbyists.

Several Realtors and landlords have told us privately that they are appalled at the displacement occurring in the county — about what is happening to renters. But the organizations that purport to represent them have only increased profits and political power as their missions. We need to get these foxes out of the henhouses of every level of government influence. For-profit lobbyists should have no further say in the housing policies of our cities.

The only way to stop the bleeding in this county is to stabilize rents and enact just cause eviction protections. Renters need to know how much their housing costs will increase and have the assurance that they cannot be thrown out of their homes without a valid reason — just like homeowners. We need housing security. Rent stabilization will afford decent profits for landlords and renter protections will ensure stability for everyone — the homeowners, renters and businesses in our communities.

Cynthia Cornell is the founder of Burlingame Advocates for Renter Protections.



Tags: their, housing, county, renters, cities, build,

Other stories from today:

OP-ED: Getting the foxes out of the henhouse
Letter: More development will not lower rent
The power of harmony

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