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After Long Battle, Rent Control Comes to Richmond

Richmond voters took to the polls on Tuesday and told the mayor, city council and several landlord groups that they want and need rent control. 

Measure L, the controversial proposition drafted to protect tenants in the working-class city, overwhelmingly passed with just over 66 percent of the vote. 

The measure mandates that the rent of apartments built prior to 1995 cannot raise more than 3 percent annually, while also making it illegal for landlords to evict tenants if there is no just cause.

The Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), the measure's largest advocate, touted Tuesday's victory.

"As Measure L advocates have said from the start, this measure alone will not solve our community’s housing crisis, but it constitutes an important step to help seniors and working people stay in their homes and to prevent evictions without just cause," organization leaders said in a statement. "Moving forward, Richmond must redouble its efforts to develop more affordable housing."

The RPA had several reasons to celebrate: Members Melvin Willis and Ben Choi also nabbed spots on the city council, now giving the alliance a majority. 

Willis, who was backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution organization with Choi, said he's looking forward to bringing in housing developers who prioritize community needs. He admitted that he worried about rent control passing.

"I had a strong feeling Measure L wasn’t going to pass, but I’m just so relieved it did," Willis said. "So many tenants were riding on it passing. Now, we have a chance to stabilize our community and develop housing that’s actually affordable for Richmond."

Meanwhile, those against rent control and the RPA took to social media to voice their grievances after the crushing defeat. 

"Well played RPA," wrote Felix Hunziker in a Richmond Facebook group. "You've ridden another wedge issue into power and for the next two years Richmond is your petri dish. We can only pray that you'll represent all Richmond residents equally and wisely rather than catering to the whims of your political clique."

Rent control was arguably the most contentious issue facing the Richmond community during the election. Its passing is especially surprising considering other Bay Area counties voted down similar measures, including San Mateo and Burlingame.

Those against rent control in Richmond, like Hunziker and Mayor Tom Butt, voiced concern that the measure would ultimately raise rents on newer properties and give developers second thoughts about building in the city. There was also the fear that RPA would gain control in the city council and always vote in a bloc, a prospect that Mayor Tom Butt once called his "worst fear."

Willis dismissed those worries, saying that the primary goal of the organization was to better the lives of Richmond residents. 

“At the end of the day, we’re all our own individual people," he said. "We may be part of the same group, but the group that we’re part of is about what's best for the community and not about gaining power." 

Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at 

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