Santa Ana is looking at whether to become the first city in Orange County to implement rent control on apartments and houses. The city council is scheduled to start the discussion Tuesday night with a presentation from experts on the issue.
Some community groups have been pushing the city to put the breaks on rising rents that they say are making Santa Ana unaffordable for many long-term residents. Landlords say the real issue is the housing shortage.
“Santa Ana is experiencing gentrification right now,” said Hairo Cortes, executive director of the Latino advocacy group Chispa. “So these landlords are seeing an opportunity to push out community members and residents who have been living here for decades because they’re going to be able to find someone who they can charge more for that apartment.”
The city’s housing division manager, Judson Brown, said city and census data show a 10 percent increase in median rent from 2010 to 2016. At the same time, median household income fell by 1.5 percent during that time period.
Currently, no city in Orange County has rent control, with the exception of San Juan Capistrano, which limits rent hikes on mobile homes.
Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the Kennedy Commission, which advocates for affordable housing, said Santa Ana and Anaheim were historically cities where working class families could afford to live.
Crime and urban decay also plagued some neighborhoods in those cities. But as OC’s housing market has become increasingly tight, "some of these neighborhoods have become more appealing,” Covarrubias said. "And so I think community groups are looking at ways to stabilize rents to allow people to stay in the areas where they live.”
But apartment owners oppose rent control. Nicholas Dunlap, vice president of legislative affairs for the Apartment Association of Orange County, said the solution to rising rents is to build more housing.
“What we should be doing here is having a focused discussion on how to increase housing affordability by increasing affordable housing,” he said.
A report from the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate found that apartments in the Anaheim-Orange-Santa Ana market area had the lowest vacancy rates in the county last year.