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Protecting Tenants in San Rafael’s Canal Neighborhood

May 8, 2024

On April 15th, the San Rafael City Council voted unanimously in favor of a new ordinance to better protect tenants and residents of the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael from eviction.  

This step came at the urging of Canal Alliance, partner agencies, and residents facing the impacts of the Canal neighborhood’s designation as an Opportunity Zone.  This designation has incentivized predatory evictions and displacement; tax incentives designed to attract investment in the community left loopholes that allowed investors to evict long-time residents to make renovations for “health and safety” and then astronomically increase the rents after making minor upgrades to the rental units.   

 The newly adopted ordinance, supported by community testimony from local residents, advocates, and Voces Del Canal members, includes critical amendments to existing tenant laws, protecting residents of the Opportunity Zone from no-fault evictions of this nature. Specifically, it removes landlords’ ability to permanently evict tenants in order to renovate the unit to improve its habitability. Instead, landlords may only temporarily displace tenants while that work takes place; they must pay relocation assistance, and tenants have the right to return at the same rent they were paying before. 

Council members acknowledged that the ordinance, while temporary, is an essential step towards addressing the immediate needs of tenants. Effective as of the date of their vote, April 15, 2024, the ordinance will remain in effect until December 31, 2026, when the Opportunity Zone tax incentives end. The ordinance only applies to renters in the Opportunity Zone census tracts within the Canal neighborhood. While the ordinance is an interim solution, we at Canal Alliance hope it will bridge the gap to more lasting reforms the City aims to establish through ongoing public engagement and careful policy review.  

Community engagement at the meeting was poignant, with comments from representatives from Canal Alliance, Community Action Marin, and Legal Aid of Marin, and others. Canal Alliance staff, and our fellow community advocates, highlighted numerous cases where families without such protections, found themselves displaced and struggling to find affordable housing, often resulting in relocation far from their community and support systems. 

We are heartened by the unanimous vote favoring the urgency ordinance, as it underscores the importance of safeguarding tenant rights. The decision also demonstrates the City’s dedication to fostering fair development and preserving the diverse cultural and economic fabric of this distinct community. 

Aaron Burnett, Director of policy and Civic Engagement at Canal Alliance, praised the city’s decision to pass the urgency ordinance and acknowledged the years of advocacy work that led to this victory. Burnett emphasized that the ordinance would help prevent further “no-fault” evictions due to substantial repairs, which have been used by real estate investors to displace residents.  

As San Rafael faces both the benefits and challenges brought on by federal investment incentives, strong municipal leadership will continue to be central to protecting community interests. Moreover, our experience in San Rafael can serve as a model for other municipalities dealing with similar dynamics, emphasizing the value of policy shaped by community input in urban planning and development. 

Looking ahead, Canal Alliance recognizes the complexities surrounding housing issues and the need for comprehensive, data-supported policies that cater to the entire community. Committed to progress and inclusivity, we look forward to continue partnering with the City on building a future where secure, reasonably priced, and stable housing is a reality for all our neighbors. 

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