Rent Board members push to restore Richmond's housing rights mural

Rent Board members push to restore Richmond's housing rights mural
The “Know-Your-Rights” mural on 23rd Street and Ohio Avenue showcases parts of the language from the rent program and portrays a range of housing conditions.

The Richmond Rent Board briefly considered forming an ad hoc committee to address the deterioration condition of the “Know-Your-Rights” mural on 23rd Street and Ohio Avenue before a staff attorney advised it was outside the board’s scope.

The mural, created in 2017, celebrates community action for equitable housing, and draws attention to rent control, just cause eviction, and fair chance housing laws. The mural was created by the Staying Power project supported by the Safe Return Project, the RYSE center, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and the Othering & Belonging Institute.

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Richmond Rent Board member Elaine Dockens pushed the ad hoc committee to restore the mural ahead of a city-wide celebration on the ten-year anniversary of the rent control ordinance.

Dockens said there has been some talk for some members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and others that the anniversary of the ordinance is coming up in 2026.

“That is just two years away, and maybe there should be some kind of city-wide celebration or commemoration, something to recognize this marvelous agency and ordinance that the people brought forth on an initiative,” Dockens said during the April 17 meeting.

Dockens said the ad hoc committee could do a good job restoring the mural in time for a big celebration in February 2026.

“My initial thought was that the rent board would present or talk with the public arts people and let them know that there is a mural depicting our program and that we are interested in having it restored,” Dockens said. “We would expect that to be a part of the discussion down the way but my assumption was that the public arts committee has a source of funds.”

Evan Bissell, a project manager at the Haas Institute, collaborated with Staying Power fellow Sasha Graham to co-lead the mural project. Photo/Soren Hemmila

Staff Attorney Charles Oshinuga said forming an ad hoc committee appeared to exceed the scope of the Rent Board.

“Our primary function is to regulate rents. That’s what the courts have said, and any activity we do must be that,” Oshinuga said. “I don’t think you can form a committee that would perform that function.”

Oshinuga said the committee would not connect to the rent board’s regulatory purpose of setting rents and monitoring evictions. In order to spend money or staff time, the spending has to be reasonable and necessary.

Necessary is where the courts are really strict, according to Oshinuga. “Necessary” means that without doing this thing, your functions would be significantly impaired.

“The board would have to determine that without this mural, their outreach functions would be significantly impaired,” Oshinuga said.

Oshinuga added any board member can go to any other board meeting as an individual and say, “You know, I’m really into this mural. I think it’s important for the community,” and advocate as a citizen or resident of Richmond to get those things done.

Nicolas Traylor, Executive Director of the Richmond Rent Program, said there are strict requirements regarding how the fees paid by landlords are used.

“This is a mural that wasn’t originally funded by the rent program or the rent board- it was a community effort,” Traylor said. “I want to make sure we’re clear that it’s not our mural per se, although it clearly expresses and advocates the ordinance.”

Vice Chair Jim Hite argued to bring back and restore the mural and pushed for more murals representing rent control objectives.

“We should have two or three of them around different parts of the city. I think we should be really sure about what message we want to say. We’ve got to inform the public about all this,” Hite said.

The Richmond Rent Program was established in January 2017 following approval of the Richmond Fair Rent, Just Cause for Eviction, and Homeowner Protection Ordinance by Richmond voters in November 2016.

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