Our most recent analysis, Bay Area Elected Officials Still Don’t Reflect the Region’s Diversity, and the diversity of electeds indicator focus on racial/ethnic and gender representation among local electeds, yet there are other important dimensions where having political representation could contribute to a more equitable and inclusive region. Discussions with Bay Area Equity Atlas advisory partners surfaced the need to understand how other forms of representation beyond race may play into who holds the political power in deciding local tenant protection and housing policies. Thus, this case study looks at the real estate interests of elected officials and their impact on tenant protection legislation and political representation. This analysis is based on a sample of 208 elected officials from 20 cities in the region and across the nine counties.
Housing affordability is a long-standing and persistent issue across the region. Just under half of households in the Bay Area are renters. Due to a history of racism and discrimination in housing policy and lending, communities of color are more likely to be renters and are more likely to pay more than they can afford on rent. For example, nearly two out of three Black female-headed households in the Bay Area are rent-burdened, which means that they pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
Strategies such as strong tenant protections, rental assistance, eviction moratoria, and affordable housing development are key to ensuring all residents have access to quality, affordable homes. Local elected officials in cities and counties play an important role in passing housing policies that can respond to local needs and conditions as well as creating a higher level of protection than state-level legislation.
During the onset of the pandemic, eviction moratoria were passed across state, county, and local levels. However, not all cities passed one, or, if they did, the moratoria offered varying levels of protection. Local elected officials can play an essential role in passing strong tenant protections and housing justice policies. For example, both the majority of Santa Rosa and Vallejo’s city councils hold real estate interests and both city councils opted to defer to the county-level eviction moratorium or the governor’s executive order in lieu of passing their own. Comparatively, Oakland has a renter-friendly and renter-represented city council. Oakland passed an eviction moratorium with strong protections and more lenient proof requirements of Covid impact for tenants which expired in July 2023. The city also placed a limit on rent increases. These strong protections initially protected Oakland residents from the 557 eviction cases that were filed the month after the Alameda moratorium expired in April 2023.
Underrepresentation among elected officials can impact policy outcomes, with studies showing that representatives who share similar characteristics to their constituents are more responsive to their requests and concerns. When electeds hold conflicting interests, such as receiving campaign donations from real estate and homeowner lobbies or holding personal rental property interests, that can impact how they legislate. While there is no robust data on the share of electeds who are renters in the Bay Area, of the 120 state legislators, there are at least 30 who are landlords, compared to only three who are renters.
Data and Methods
Case Study Geographies
There are 101 cities/towns and nine counties represented in the Bay Area Equity Atlas’ diversity of electeds indicator.
To explore the landscape of real estate interests held by Bay Area elected officials, we collected statements of economic interest forms for mayors, city councilmembers, and county supervisors from the region’s nine counties and 20 cities across the Bay Area. The 20 cities for this case study were selected in partnership with Urban Habitat and Bay Rising. This geographic scope was also informed by the advocacy priorities of the Atlas' Equity Campaign Leaders Advisory Committee.
Real Estate Interests of Elected Officials
California requires every public official who is involved with governmental decisions to file a statement of economic interests (Form 700). Officials are required to disclose stock investments; business ownerships; rental properties within their jurisdiction that had direct, indirect, or beneficial interest totaling $2,000 or more during the reporting period; additional income and gifts; and travel payments from third parties. (These disclosures exclude private residences used solely for personal use.)
Elected officials are required to file a Form 700 annually, as well as when they are assuming, leaving, or running for office. We reviewed forms submitted by elected officials within the focus geographies across three years — 2020, 2021, and 2022. Electeds at the city level included mayors and city councilmembers. Electeds at the county level included county supervisors. District attorneys were excluded from the Form 700 data collection since they aren't involved in passing legislation.
When available, we collected the following information about each property disclosed from Schedule B of each form: fair market value, nature of interest, and gross income received (only for rental properties). Additionally, even though the state's guidelines indicate that disclosure only applies to rental properties within each elected official’s jurisdiction, or within two miles of the boundaries of the jurisdiction, there were instances where an official's disclosed properties fell outside the scope of reporting requirements. In turn, we removed disclosed properties located outside of an elected’s jurisdiction from the data collection in order to standardize the real estate interest across all elected officials. We also counted a parcel as one property in instances when an elected official owned a building with multiple units.
Tenant Protection Legislation and Voting Decisions
Given the rapidly changing nature of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, many jurisdictions passed local eviction moratoria to promote public health and aid in residents’ ability to comply with stay-at-home orders. For the purpose of this research, we were interested in capturing the instances when an eviction moratorium was put forth for a vote in the focus geographies. Referencing datasets on local eviction moratoria collected by Emily Benfer and Aaron Tiedemann, reporting from news media, and legislation libraries from jurisdictions, we reviewed city council and board of supervisors meeting minutes and collected voting outcomes when eviction moratoria were introduced or being considered for an extension.
Twenty-five percent of elected officials reported real estate interests and 13 percent received rental income in 2020.
Among the 208 electeds who were in office in 2020 within our case study geographies, 53 electeds (25 percent) reported owning at least one real estate interest that is not a personal residence. While there is limited data on the share of the overall population who own rental property, a national study found that less than 7 percent of tax filers reported owning rental properties.
While many electeds reported property interests, not all of these properties generated rental income in the reporting period. In 2020, 28 electeds, or 13 percent percent of the electeds in the analysis, reported receiving rental income.
Five elected officials with property interests owned more than a third of all property interests reported.
While the majority of electeds with real estate interests reported one or two properties in 2020, five electeds owned a combined 35 properties out of the total 100 properties. Electeds who receive significant rental property income may have a greater conflict of interest when it comes to legislating policies that impact tenants or may need to recuse themselves from votes, creating a higher threshold for legislation to pass.
For instance, according to the California statements of economic interest completed by elected officials, Mayor Robert McConnell in Vallejo reported 12 properties each generating rental income between $10,000 to $100,000 annually. In July 2019, when Vallejo adopted an emergency ordinance that extended tenant protections to renters in two-unit apartment complexes, then-Councilmember McConnell was absent. Later in December 2019, a just cause ordinance was put forth to the city council. Citing conflict of interest, then-Councilmember McConnell recused himself from the discussion and vote. The ordinance failed to gather the five votes needed to pass.
Councilmember Michael Barbanica of Antioch reported seven properties that generate rental income mostly between $10,000 to $100,000 each, with one property generating more than $100,000. In August 2022, Antioch passed a rent stabilization ordinance with nays from Councilmembers Barbanica and Lori Ogorchock. And more recently in June of 2023, Councilmember Barbanica was the sole dissenting vote when the city council voted to create a rental registry.
Councilmember Raj Salwan of Fremont reported six property interests, with four of them generating more than $100,000 in rental income each. When the city was debating rent control measures in 2017, Councilmember Salwan was one of many councilmembers who expressed opposition.
Without the lived experiences of being a tenant, landlord electeds may legislate in ways that, at best, do not improve the lives of renters in their jurisdiction, and at worst, actively harm them. Additionally, there is a correlation between increases in residential evictions and decreases in overall voter turnout at the neighborhood level. The direct relationship between the choices made by elected property owners on housing insecurity in the region can impact civic engagement as well. This compounding effect of wealth accumulation and landlord-tenant power can threaten the democratic process, especially when the intersection of wealth and power manifests in city halls.
To build a more resilient democracy where our elected officials are governing for all residents in the Bay Area, there must be a conscious effort from government officials, agencies, philanthropies, and the private sector to increase the representation of renters in elected office.
- Funders must intentionally invest resources that support lobbying to shift the political landscape and movement governance. Just as real estate lobbying and donations to landlord candidates have helped them gain a disproportionate amount of power in local politics, electeds who are renters require the same level of investment and support.
- Additionally, local governments should require rent boards and housing commissions to include tenants. These positions should be elected or appointed, with robust opportunities for constituents to contribute.
A more equitable region would include a diverse representation of renters in political office and other positions of power who champion strong tenant-focused housing policies to ensure that all residents have access to safe and affordable housing.
Bay Rising is a growing alliance of Bay Area community-led organizations building power across the region to win community-driven governance centered on racial, economic, and environmental justice. Three local alliances anchor the alliance: Oakland Rising, San Francisco Rising, and Silicon Valley Rising. These three local alliances work together to increase voter turnout within their communities, educate voters, support grassroots electoral campaigns, and develop local leaders.
Urban Habitat democratizes power and advances equitable policies to create a just and connected Bay Area for low-income communities of color. As a movement support organization, it confronts the structural inequities that impact historically disenfranchised communities and increases the power and capacity of low-income communities of color through strategic partnerships.