ALAMEDA -- City officials have kicked off the effort to form a "rent stabilization task force" to look at whether tenants need protection from rising rents against the backdrop of a pricey Bay Area real estate market and the growing demand for affordable housing.
The council's decision to have City Manager John Russo begin the work on a task force came Tuesday, when the council unanimously approved the Housing Element of the city's General Plan, the portion that identifies places to accommodate its residential needs for the next eight years.
Russo will come back before the council in September with a recommendation on the task force after he gathers input from landlords, tenants, real estate agents and others. Rising rents and housing affordability were "the major issue" for people when the Planning Board and the Commission on Disability Issues reviewed the Housing Element, City Planner Andrew Thomas said.
During Tuesday's meeting more than a dozen speakers urged the council to set up the task force, some describing how their friends or family members have experienced double-digit rent hikes that could force them to leave Alameda.
"We need to ask, 'Is our sense of community at risk?' " said William Smith of Renewed Hope, a local housing advocacy group, who noted the destabilizing effect of rising rents. "That's one of the things we need to look at."
The council's move to create the task force came the same day as a report that showed Bay Area apartment rents had reached a record high in the second quarter, continuing a three-year run of steady increases.
Rents averaged $2,158 a month in the nine-county Bay Area, a nearly 20 percent gain since the second quarter of 2011, and a 10.3 percent jump from the same period last year, according to Novato-based RealFacts. Rents were up 5.6 percent from the first quarter.
Alameda County saw the biggest percentage gain -- up 12 percent from a year ago to an average rent of $1,928 a month. The area is under pressure partly because of refugees from San Francisco, where rents averaged $3,229 in the second quarter, a 9.4 percent annual gain.
"It's a problem," Alameda Councilmember Stewart Chen said. "It's not just an Alameda problem. It's a regional problem."
Alameda officials will need time to collect data and review the legal ramifications of a rent control or stabilization ordinance, as well as the financial costs to administer it, Thomas said. The city's Rent Review Advisory Committee, which mediates between tenants and landlords during allegations of excessive rent increases, will likely be reviewed by the task force.
The Housing Element identifies sites for 1,725 homes. About half are designated as affordable, and none of the sites are at Alameda Point, the former Alameda Naval Air Station. Among the locations are just more than 7 acres on the north side of Buena Vista Avenue between Arbor and Ohlone streets and a site known as the "Boatworks" at Clement Avenue and Oak Street.
Revisions to the Housing Element must take place every eight years under state law.
Alameda officials began reviewing the current document in 2007, but they did not secure state approval until 2012 because it needed adjusting, a delay that caused city officials to consider the Housing Element again now due to the cycle required by state law. The Housing Element approved in 2012 identified sites for about 2,400 homes.
Reasons for fewer sites in the current document include the city taking ownership of about 1,300 acres at Alameda Point from the U.S. Navy in June 2013, which opened up a host of potential locations for homes and allowed the city to show state officials that it can easily meet its projected housing needs.
Staff writer Pete Carey contributed to this report.