North Bay Association Tackles Rent Control Ordinance in Santa Rosa, California

North Bay Association Tackles Rent Control Ordinance in Santa Rosa, California

July 2017

In the North Bay region of California, which counts Napa and Sonoma among its counties, agriculture and tourism are big—and so is the shortage of affordable and work force housing.

When Santa Rosa, the region’s largest city, recently attempted to pass rent control and just cause eviction legislation, the 3,200-member North Bay Association of REALTORS® (NorBAR) joined forces with a strong coalition of business alliances to protect the rights of property owners—and to encourage government to meet the demand for affordable housing.

NorBAR does not deny that there is a shortage of affordable and workforce housing in the region; rents in Sonoma County have risen nearly 40% in the past four years. But denying apartment owners the ability to charge full market value for the use of their property, and limiting circumstances under which owner can evict a problem tenant, undermines basic private property rights, says Tracy Huotari, NorBAR’s Chief Executive Officer. To solve the real problem, she notes, the city will have to allow development of more affordable housing.   

The issue had been brewing for several years, when in August 2016, the Santa Rosa City Council passed a permanent rent control and just cause eviction ordinance. The next day, NorBAR and a coalition it had formed with the California Apartment Association began collecting signatures to prevent it from being enforced. They were successful in halting the ordinance, only to have the Council place it on the ballot for voters to decide, in a special election in June 2017.

NorBAR turned to NAR’s Campaign Services Team for help; it had already contributed funds from its own Issues Mobilization fund, and secured a grant from the California Association of REALTORS®. In addition to a major grant, the REALTOR® Party’s Campaign Services Team provided focus groups and polling to determine the campaign’s viability, identify voters and craft the campaign messaging.  The “No on C” campaign was both a get-out-the-vote effort and an educational force. “Our REALTORS® were deeply involved,” says Huotari, “they were out knocking on doors, registering voters, putting up lawn signs and making a big push on social media. Our coalition, ‘Citizens for Fair and Equitable Housing,’ was amazing, uniting the chamber of commerce and groups from across many local industries. Its website,, remains a great resource.” In addition to four targeted postcard mailings, door-to-door canvassers and TV, radio and online advertising, the ‘No on C’ campaign benefitted from the support of the influential local newspaper, The Press Democrat

On June 6, the ordinance was defeated by 52% of the vote.

The next step, says Huotari, will be sitting down with legislators and getting them to solve the real problems. “The bottom line is that we need to fix the supply shortage,” she explains, noting that the REALTORS® will be working with local units of government to look at removing obstacles to affordable and workforce housing. “We’ve got a number of understanding legislators in office, and we’ll continue to work hard and use our PAC funds in the local elections process to support even more.”

Meanwhile, the success of the campaign is having an apparent impact beyond Santa Rosa.  For months, says Huotari, the rent control issue was being discussed in another nearby community, also within the North Bay Association’s jurisdiction; it now seems to have “fallen off the agenda” in the weeks since the voters in Santa Rosa defeated the measure.

To learn more about how the North Bay Association of REALTORS® is protecting private property rights in the counties north of San Francisco, while keeping the focus on solutions to increase affordable and work force housing, contact Chief Executive Officer Tracy A. Huotari at 707-522-8169.

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