Landlords may soon be limited in the monthly rent increases they can put on some Santa Ana residents, as an ongoing housing affordability crisis becomes a growing focal point in city politics.

Santa Ana residents living on leases may also get formal, citywide eviction protections — as well as financial help from the city for fighting evictions in court.

It all depends on which way a majority of Santa Ana City Council members go on the issue of rent control, what’s called a “just cause” eviction ordinance, and legal eviction defense funding when they all come up for a vote at the council’s public meeting Tuesday.

For information on how to remotely access or attend the City Council meeting, click here.

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The idea of rent control has volleyed between community activists and city officials for years, but — except for a temporary pandemic-era rent increase freeze — has never become a consistent law due to a historic lack of support for the idea on the dais.

While community organizers have in the past crafted their own ordinances or petitioned to get such a policy in front of the council to no avail, Tuesday is the first time the issue of rent control has formally made it onto the Santa Ana City Council’s agenda for a vote.

The ordinance would prohibit rent increases on residents — including those in mobile homes — at 3% annually or 80% of the change in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less, within the city. 

The rent cap will only apply to buildings built in 1995 or earlier. 

And the rent cap for mobile homes will apply only to those established in 1990 or earlier, regardless of ownership.

Still, city staff in their report attached to the meeting’s agenda say the ordinance would go further than the current statewide rent increase cap, known as Assembly Bill 1482,  “and the protections provided in this Ordinance are more restrictive than those set forth in AB 1482.”

Though a landlord who argues that the rent caps in the ordinance prevents them from receiving “a fair and reasonable return on their property,” may petition for “relief from the cap,” according to the staff report.  

The landlord would have to prove the ordinance’s posed financial burden and also notify tenants that they seek to exempt the building from the rent control ordinance. Tenants would have 30 days from being notified to respond. 

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The outcome of Tuesday’s debate, on paper, could go one of two ways: 

A supermajority of City Council members — five out of seven — could enact the rent control ordinance as an emergency ordinance, meaning it would take effect almost immediately.

If the council doesn’t have the five votes for that, a simple majority of four votes could still yield the same policy, but one which wouldn’t take effect until 30 days after a second vote to approve the policy. 

Either way, the council could also vote to direct further study into “additional regulatory framework and infrastructure necessary to implement residential rent stabilization, just cause eviction, and other protections for tenants facing housing instability,” says the staff report.

And the council on Tuesday is expected to authorize City Manager Kristine Ridge to use up to $300,000 from the Revive Santa Ana Plan — a spending plan funded by federal American Rescue Plan Act money — to create an Eviction Defense Fund.

The possible decision would be the latest housing policy that City Council members have wrestled with amid an ongoing debate over housing affordability in one of Orange County’s densest cities and concern over studies which have indicated many residents cannot afford average housing prices in town. 

For example, the council also plans to vote on reversing a prior relaxation of the city’s Housing Opportunity Ordinance, a policy requiring certain housing projects to either create affordable units on site or pay into a fund reserved for building affordable housing elsewhere.

Developers could go back to paying $15 per-square-foot for projects with no affordable housing on site — a price set under the original version of the housing ordinance — as opposed to $5 under the current version of the law, modified by a different council majority last year. 

That was the direction most council members appeared to give city staff at their last, Sept. 7 meeting — a final direction on the issue before tasking City Hall with drafting an ordinance that again modifies the housing ordinance for a council vote at least 4 weeks from then, likely longer.

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Meanwhile, the City of Santa Ana announced this week it had distributed more than $16 million in total funding to 2,791 low-income Santa Ana households who suffered financial hardship because of the pandemic.

The city first started its pandemic-related rental assistance program in May 2020, then limited to $1,500 per household. The amount was increased to $3,000 per household in August 2020 and then later increased again to $5,500 in March 2021, according to a Sept. 16 email blast from the city.

The city also revised its rental assistance program in June 2021 to cover up to 100% of rental arrears for Santa Ana households, following the state. 

All the while, the expiration of the state’s pandemic-related eviction ban looms on the horizon, set to end on Sept. 30.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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