by Sheila Payne, Jason Fults, Jesse Cosmee, James Thompson—ACLC Renters’ Rights Committee
Activists representing a broad informal coalition of renters’ rights advocates packed a Gainesville City Commission Rental Housing Subcommittee meeting with about forty people on April 16.
About seven corporate landlord representatives attended. Those who spoke in favor of renters’ rights issues were in the same ratio.
The Subcommittee working on this issue – Chair David Arreola and his fellow Commissioners Helen Warren and Adrian Hayes-Santos attended – drew from the energy in that room. Each elected official engaged directly with us.
The biggest development was that the Alachua County Labor Coalition housing recommendations on renters’ rights (https://laborcoalition.org/safehealthyhousing/our-white-paper/) have been fully owned by a diverse array of “representative” and “elected” bodies, NAACP or Sierra Club being an example of the former, UF Student Government and the Alachua County Democratic Party being examples of the latter. These groups directly or by their work represent tens of thousands of residents as non-governmental organizations. No group has amended or modified the ACLC proposal when supporting or endorsing it.
The Subcommittee clearly supports the general thrust of the second wave of staff recommendations for landlord licensing, per-unit fees, and unit inspections – the first stair on the climb for renters’ rights. But they put off until the next meeting a critical issue of energy efficiency grading.
The next Rental Housing Subcommittee meeting is scheduled for May 15 at 2pm in the Roberta Lisle Kline Conference Room (Room 16) of City Hall.
The teasing out of energy efficiency grading to create a transparent marketplace for renters and reduce fuel consumption is vital. We will need environmental experts and advocates to be sure to join us at that next Subcommittee meeting. It will be difficult for Gainesville to meet its multi-decade sustainability goals without a robust energy efficiency component to renters’ rights.
Landlord staff were polite and took the position that renters’ rights was an attack on property rights, had not worked in other towns, or would create negative pressure on affordable housing.
Nothing proposed by renters’ rights advocates infringes on property rights, but rather encourages regulating a for-profit business relationship between landlords and their clients, who are more likely to be working poor and people of color.
The “other town” examples were some outlier ACLU cases where “renters’ rights” was a ruse to invade the privacy of minority and immigrant homes – the ACLC program does just the opposite with anti-discrimination clauses against citizenship status and income source like those recently and unanimously passed by the Alachua County Board of Commissioners.
No evidence was offered for the negative effects on affordable housing. Commissioner Arreola reminded everyone that the subcommittee’s work may overlap with affordable housing but that is not, at any rate, its primary charge.
The elephant in the room for the commercial landlords and all of us is how to work around or be “creative” as one Commissioner stated, with the Florida Statute provisions that conserve regulation of large properties (above five units) with the State, not to municipal governments. City staff and attorneys have been instructed to come back with some legal workarounds so the City can influence larger properties.
It was a successful day, but much heavy lifting remains. The two best things we can do now are to show up to argue for the energy efficiency provisions, and keep adding workaday citizens to the speaking roster. The most powerful words came from actual renters, and people who cannot attend these workday meetings are wholeheartedly invited to submit their experiences as renters in this community directly to our City Commissioners (CityComm@cityofgainesville.org).
This issue dovetails community values for economic, racial, environmental, and social justice.
Everyone who cares about affordable housing has given clear instructions to elected officials. The ACLC Renters’ rights program is endorsed or supported by
the Alachua County NAACP
UF Student Government
Pride Community Center
Alachua County Democratic Party ACEA (K-12 teachers and staff union)
Greater Duval Neighborhood Association (a historically black working class neighborhood)
Graduate Assistants United
League of Women Voters
National Womens Liberation – Gainesville
North Central Florida Labor Council (AFL-CIO)
Suwanee St. Johns Sierra Club
United Faculty of Florida
Local activists of long tenure cite this as an exceptionally large, perhaps even the largest, issue-based consensus coalition in our community’s recent political history.
Renters’ rights programs that include landlord licensing, energy efficiency, anti-discrimination rules, and tenant rights education – as the ACLC program does – could improve living conditions and affordability for tens of thousands of our neighbors.
It’s a good struggle, and we should all be proud of our work and that of the elected officials and staff in the subcommittee. Please come to the next meeting, and let’s keep this train rolling.