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Santa Barbara City Council votes to proceed with 2% annual rental increase cap

Flickr member Ryosuke Yagi

In a nearly four-hour-long meeting Tuesday, the City of Santa Barbara voted 4-3 to move forward with an ordinance that caps annual rental increases to two percent.

More than 40 people, including renters to landlords, spoke out about a proposal from Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilman Oscar Gutierrez to lower the state's annual rent increase cap from five percent down to two percent within the city.

Gutierrez said 60 percent of people who live in Santa Barbara are renters, and that too many of those people are getting pushed out by rent increases.

“There is a record number of families, particularly those of color, leaving the city because of how expensive it is," Gutierrez said. "The cost of living here has only gone up. This is intended to try to make it more affordable for working families here.”

Many renters, like Christian Illonzo, were in favor of the ordinance, citing their struggles of trying to stay financially afloat in Santa Barbara.

“It’s really hard to imagine a future here. I’m saying that as someone who has built a career, a family and a life here," Illonzo said. "Renting in the city is untenable for so many, and the pandemic has only intensified this crisis.”

But several landlords called in, heavily opposing the idea.

Property manager Nancy Gutly said it will put landlords in the difficult position of keeping up with costs of maintaining their properties.

“What this cap does include is that we have ongoing increases. One percent tax on our property every year, utilities, repairs," Gutly said. "These are all expenses that we have to incorporate. If it gets to the point where I can't afford to maintain my property, then I have no choice but to sell it.”

In one of her last meetings as mayor, Murillo said the issue of housing affordability has reached a crisis level and that this ordinance will give working class families the opportunity to stay living in the city.

“We are bringing it at a time when our city and our state are experiencing a housing shortage," Murillo said. "We are seeing an increase in homelessness, and we have many residents living with very high rental rates.”

The vote now directs staff to prepare a temporary ordinance to be brought back for more discussion at a later time.

It is unclear if the ordinance will hold once Mayor-Elect Randy Rowse takes office on January 11.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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