Alameda's tenants pinched by rising rents, survey finds

Alameda's tenants pinched by rising rents, survey finds

Michele Ellson
Renewed Hope

About two-thirds of the 189 people who participated in a survey on rents said theirs has been increased in the last 12 months. Image courtesy of Renewed Hope.

Alamedans are feeling pinched by rising rents, new survey results released by housing advocates Renewed Hope show.

About two-thirds of the 189 survey respondents said their rent has increased over the past 12 months, and 15 percent said their rent has gone up more than 10 percent – the ceiling typically recommended by Alameda’s Rent Review Advisory Committee, which offers non-binding mediation for rent disputes.

Even people whose rent hasn’t been increased said they fear they could see their rents escalate beyond what they can afford to pay, comments offered by survey participants show.

More than half of Alameda’s residents rent their homes, United States Census data show.

Renewed Hope issued the survey in an effort to provide data to build or refute anecdotal concerns rents are on the rise in Alameda and that renters are being forced to leave the Island.

“It looks like over half of the respondents have had a rent increase in the last year and, while some haven't and have said their landlords are decent and understanding, there are clear indications of pressure on everybody,” Renewed Hope’s Laura Thomas said. “Many said one more rent increase would be their undoing and many are long-time residents. It's something anyone who cares about Alameda should be alarmed over.”

Angie Watson-Hajjem of ECHO Housing, which provides free counseling for tenants and landlords detailing their housing rights and responsibilities, said the nonprofit is getting fewer calls about rent increases in Alameda than it did last year. But representatives there speculate that renters receiving increases are either keeping quiet and paying them or moving out of town.

Recent data generated by Axiometrics, a national market research firm, showed rents up 17 percent in Northern Alameda over the past year, with rents there averaging $2,200 a month, and nearly 12 percent in the East End, with the average rent $2,062. Those increases outpaced the roughly 10 percent rise experienced by the Oakland metro area as a whole, Axiometrics’ data show.

“As rents continue rising in San Francisco, residents are fleeing across the bay to take advantage of lower rents in the Oakland (metro area),” an unnamed analyst with the company wrote in response to a query from a reporter. “This demand, combined with lack of new supply, has led to double-digit annualized rent growth throughout the Oakland (metro area) and in the North Alameda/East Alameda submarkets.”

Renewed Hope has pushed city leaders to consider adopting some form of rent control, though the local Realtors’ association is fighting the attempt, saying the city’s existing rent review committee, which provides non-binding mediation for landlords and tenants who are willing to participate in the process, is good enough. Some rent control opponents have said they fear controls could hamper investment in Alameda, while others argue that a lack of supply is the real problem – a problem the council is addressing by considering the development of hundreds of new homes, many of them affordable to residents with lower than average incomes.

Neighboring cities where such controls are in place include Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward and Fremont.

The City Council agreed on July 15 to consider creating a task force to look into whether rising rents and evictions are a problem in Alameda, though council members stopped short of including it in a state-mandated housing blueprint that lays out the city’s policies and programs supporting housing development. City staffers pledged to spend the rest of the summer figuring out how such a task force should be structured and to present a plan for forming one to the City Council in September.

Some council members said in February 2013 that they may consider exploring the possibility of rent control after hearing from the family of an elderly couple whose rent was raised 67 percent after a new owner bought their building, an increase that forced them out of their longtime home.

Several of the renters who participated in Renewed Hope’s survey detailed rent increases of hundreds of dollars in a single year – increases that they say have pushed tenants out of their homes. And several complained their landlords aren’t maintaining or improving their properties with the additional rent they’re charging.

One participant said all but two of the existing tenants in the building where they live moved out after a new landlord increased rents by $200 a month or more. That person said their landlord is seeking $1,850 for one-bedroom apartments.

“One tenant was an 85 (year) old SICK woman who ran out of money & had to move into state run home – she died after being there 4 days!” wrote the renter, who like others who participated in the survey was not named to protect them from potential retaliation.

Another survey participant said that since August 2013, their landlord has raised the rent by $450 a month.

“I'm concerned that he is raising the rent so significantly in order to push me out,” the renter wrote. “He has made several comments to me over the past year that indicate that he does not like my home daycare business. He also has said that he wants market rate rent for my unit.”

Renters who participated in the survey said housing costs are eating up as much as 90 percent of their income; housing costs of more than 30 percent of a household’s income are considered burdensome.

Even tenants who haven’t faced rent increases said they’re fearful one may be coming, particularly as rents are raised significantly in surrounding units. One survey participant said they’ve avoided asking their landlord for repairs because they fear a call could trigger a rent increase, while others said they can’t move because there’s nothing available for a rent they can afford.

“I cannot find anywhere else to live and will have to stay during a foundation replacement and feel it may be unsafe, but what are you going to do? This Island is railroading existing tenants out with huge rent increases and pulling in the highest bidders,” one survey participant wrote. “The two tenants who just left chose to leave the state and I am considering the same option. In the last 90 days I've only seen two decent units at the $1,200 price point, I and many others applied, there just aren't any vacancies at a reasonable price.”

Moving can also be costly, renters said. One renter who was among the dozens evicted from Marina View Towers when new owners took over and began renovating in June 2013 said the move cost them $5,000 – a financial hardship. Like many who participated in the survey, this person said they’re in favor of rent control.

Thomas said the fear prompted by rising rents is bad for Alameda, while other members of Renewed Hope told the City Council that the increases are decreasing diversity and pushing out people who are active members of the community. The nonprofit’s rent committee is being at 7 p.m. today in the social hall of Buena Vista United Methodist Church to discuss the council’s decision; the meeting is open to the public.

“The collective sense of security is severely threatened. I think it's a bad situation for a community; it just erodes the fabric of existence,” Thomas said. “It will make turn Alameda from a real community into a brochure image with an attractive surface, but a hollow core.”

Related: Housing advocates seek rent control

Comments

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Tue, Jul 22, 2014

The survey results are interesting. About 84% of those surveyed have received 10% or less rent increases, with almost half of those surveyed having not received any rent increase at all. Only 65% of those surveyed have received 5% or less rent increases.

I think this shows that Alameda landlords are overall very fair and not “evil” as some have accused them of being.

Given what is happening in the region, I think the answer to is build more rental housing instead of trying to force rent control.

Submitted by C. (not verified) on Tue, Jul 22, 2014

We live in fear of our rent increasing beyond our ability to pay. So far our landlord has been fair and our increases have been modest and incremental. But, what was market rate several years ago is now below market rate today. We have seen rental homes in our neighborhood increase $500 to $700 a month in the last couple years. I guess we will have to cutback even further (already no vacations, dinners out, gifts, etc..) There is not a whole lot more to cut back on other than food, transportation and medical care. Next to go will be cable TV - a small luxury we've kept. The real estate industry in town will effectively squash any attempts at rent control. We know it is only a matter of time before we have to move to the exurbs or eventually out of state. It is sad because this is where we were born and raised our family. Starting over from scratch making connections in a whole new community at our age will be challenging. I can't blame landlords. They will try to get whatever they can. As long as there is a shortage of housing in the Bay Area and more and more high-paying tech jobs and people willing to pay 90 percent of their income on rent - landlords will continue to increase rents. We have no inheritance coming and always worked paycheck to paycheck. Short of winning the lottery we're pretty much going to be driven out of this town we love and in which we've invested a lifetime of community volunteerism.

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