Activists gather to push for tenant rights in Concord

Activists gather to push for tenant rights in Concord

Activists gather to push for tenant rights in Concord
Vice Mayor Edi Birsan spoke in support of renter safeguards, calling on his personal experience with housing instability at a tenant rights rally Sept 28. (Norm Hallquist photos)

CONCORD, CA (Oct. 20, 2023) — Fifty people from various community groups rallied outside City Hall on Sept. 28 to support proposed city protections for renters.

They presented a petition with 1,244 signatures in favor of tenant rights and rent increase limitations to Deputy City Clerk Stefanie Ananthan.

On Oct. 10, the City Council began evaluating information from staff about creating one or more ordinances to safeguard renters. Vice Mayor Edi Birsan and Councilmember Laura Nakamura spoke in favor of the changes during the rally.

Birsan noted a personal history of “having lived in 11 different places” when he was young. He said he has been working to create tenant ordinances in Concord for seven years, calling them appropriate for a city that promotes itself as where “Families Come First.”

At a Nov. 29, 2016, council meeting, Birsan made four motions that would have resulted in city staff investigating tenant protections and rent increase restrictions. Each motion died for lack of a second.

When reviewing the Housing Element this year, however, council members said they would address the issues. Nakamura, a newer council member, told The Pioneer she has backed such measures all along in a non-official role.

Rent spike

Concord’s current pro-renter activity comes as perceived shortages in available housing units have led to a rent spike throughout the area. At the same time, the landlord community reports spiraling costs of maintaining properties in satisfactory condition due to inflation.

Speakers at the rally included tenant organizer Betty Gabaldon with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), the Rev. Millie Phillips of the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy (FAME), attorney Victoria Snyder of Contra Costa Senior Legal Services, the Rev. Leslie Taylor of First Christian Church, Julia Caudillo of Rising Juntos and Jennifer Morales of Monument Impact.

Caudillo spoke of being evicted from her living quarters when she did not have renter’s protection.

“My daughters suffered a lot when we had to leave our home,” she said. “I don’t want to go through something as traumatic as an eviction ever again.”

Phillips led the group in singing a housing-related version of the protest song “Somebody’s Hurting My Brother.” Those assembled joined in multiple chants including “Si, se puede,” the United Farm Workers saying generally translated as “Yes, it can be done.”

Rally participants support a cap on rent increases at 3 percent annually or 60% of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. They also want to prohibit evictions without just cause for purposes of making a property available for rent at a higher monthly rate.

Speakers focused their verbal attacks on major corporations. The renters’ coalition stated that the top 10% of landlords own 66% of the multi-family units in Concord. Local investors own only 22% of the city’s multi-family units, according to the coalition.

Rent control

Queried later, Blaine Carter, a local rental unit owner who has played an active role in opposing city restrictions, said that rent control does not work.

“Artificially affecting the costs of rental units winds up speeding gentrification, because rent control limits inventory,” he said. “In other locations where rent controls have been imposed, city leaders have found that housing costs on properties which have not been subject to controls have gone higher – producing an opposite effect from what they intended.”

The laws of supply and demand apply, he said, so if there are not enough units to meet demand, higher rents are inevitable.

Norm Hallquist
Norm Hallquist

Norm Hallquist earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from Cal.  He has returned to his first love following interim careers as a U.S. Navy officer and as a workers' compensation lawyer.  He lives in Concord.