DELANO — After two months of delays and to the ire of residents, the status of rent control in Kern County's second most populous city remains inconclusive.
Officials at the Delano City Council meeting Monday night tabled the reading of its rent control report, stating they needed more time to review the information.
The report itself is a 25-page review that is arguably the first real assessment by the government on whether to create a rent control program in Delano. Its release, originally intended for February, has now been postponed twice.
Meanwhile, residents and community activists are saying rent has reached crisis levels, and that the government needs to address it. Many spoke at Monday’s meeting despite the item's rescission.
“The community is here asking for a fair conversation and discussion to help the most marginalized,” said Anai Paniaga, a coordinator for LOUD for Tomorrow, a youth advocacy group. “Your report came out Friday — that gave us two days to review over 40 pages…. Pretty sure you all (the council) didn’t read it.”
Rents across the state have steadily risen over the last 20 years and have not excluded smaller cities such as Delano. According to U.S. census data, the average rent between 2017 and 2021 was $964. Yet in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2023 Small Area Fair Market Rents report, a fair price for a two-bedroom apartment is now considered to be $1,050.
“Most of your residents make less than $19 an hour,” said Shara Thompson, Central Valley regional coordinator for Tenants Together, a statewide nonprofit focused on housing rights. “They can’t afford the $1,468 apartment that you guys are allowing landlords to rent for.”
A visit to most Delano apartment listing websites will show prices that start around $1,400 for a two-bedroom unit. Paniaga said when she and her brother were browsing apartments, they struggled to find one under $1,200.
“Folks need around $23 an hour to pay that,” Paniaga said.
Veronica Soto, a property manager with Brandywine Apartments, said that any discussion on rent control needs to acknowledge the landlord’s side. The company offers higher-end two-bedroom apartments ranging from $1,450 to $1,900.
“I’m the first one to go to bat for my residents when it comes to rent increases and prices,” Soto said. “But there’s also two sides.”
She pointed to inflation and rising costs of upkeep that reflect on their asking price.
“I feel that what’s in some of this (review) is targeted to what they like to call ‘slumlords,’” Soto said. “Brandywine Apartments are not slumlords in any such way.”
The inquiry into rent control in Delano began in December with a referral by then-Mayor Bryan Osorio, who asked staff to draft a rent stabilization program that was “limited to 70 percent of the consumer price index or 3 percent cap per year, whichever is higher,” according to public documents.
But since that meeting, little information has been released to the public. And since two council members — Mario Nunez and Mayor Joe Alindajao — are landlords, only three can vote on the subject.
Yet for the past two meetings, Salvador Solorio-Ruiz, who Paniaga said was voted in largely because of his assurance to pass rent control, has been absent.
“This the second time Salvador Solorio-Ruiz has done this,” Paniaga said. “He has avoided calls from our committees and he's given excuses and just avoided the conversation.”
In the tabled report, staff acknowledged that rental costs have increased, both in Delano and across Kern County. But in tallying estimated costs for the program, it compared itself to the cities of Inglewood, Santa Ana, West Hollywood and Culver City, which have all implemented a similar program in recent years.
City staff responded to requests for comment but were not able to answer questions on Tuesday.
Many major cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles have had local rent control laws since the 1970s, and updated them accordingly. But in smaller cities, like Delano, there are no protections beyond the state.
Implemented in 2020, the Tenant Protection Act caps the annual increase in rent at 5 percent, plus inflation, for qualified apartments 15 years or older. It also provides some protections from being evicted.
There are, however, loopholes in the state law. There is no limit on how much a landlord can charge in between tenants, and the bill exempts buildings constructed within the past 15 years — so as not to stymie new development. State officials also did not include any enforcement mechanism in the bill, and tenants are forced to hire an attorney and sue their landlord when these rights are violated.
“It’s not unbiased at all,” Paniaga said. “Basically ‘it’s a lot of money and we can’t afford it.’”
The city’s review concluded that a fee study would need to be done to determine how much a rent control program would actually cost, and whether they can afford it. Their results, they said, would be released at the following council meeting. It is unclear what will come next.