Renters offer their stories at community forum

Renters offer their stories at community forum

Dave Boitano

Island residents beset by rising rent costs got a chance to air their grievances at a community meeting Wednesday night.

The meeting at the Mastick Senior Center was the first of three public sessions scheduled to gather information on rental issues involving tenants and landlords.

The public process will also involve both sides discussing possible solutions to the housing crisis at a future meeting and then presenting potential solutions to the City Council if the community panel can reach consensus on any given issue.

Members of the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee, which mediates landlord-tenant disputes, were at the meeting, along with representatives of other groups that help landlords and tenants like ECHO Housing.

Jeff Cambra, the community facilitator who will conduct all the meetings, said this task is a daunting one.

“I’ve done community facilitations for probably 15 years and I would have to say that this is one of the most challenging of all of them that I have done,” he said.

Some of the challenges included finding tenants from among a diverse rental community and the lack of a formal group that represents property owners.

Some tenants were scared to speak up in public for fear of getting a rent increase or facing other retaliation from landlords, Cambra said. Other property owners, who haven’t raised rents, said they would not participate because they feared being lumped in with landlords who have, he said.

During their testimony, renters were not allowed to identify where they live in question and most chose not to give their names.

One renter who lives in federally subsidized Section 8 housing said she recently received a $100 per month rent hike. Because program guidelines place caps on the amount the government will pay, she will have to pay $95 of that amount. That will place a hardship on her, she said, because she is on Social Security.

“I don’t have that kind of money,” she said. “I’m already paying a third of my income for the amount that Section 8 is not paying.”

Another renter identified as “Annette” said her rent has gone from $1,500 to $1,800 monthly. She appealed to the Rent Review Advisory Committee when her landlord informed her of the $300 hike, and they agreed to a $150 monthly increase instead.

Property owners have 10 days to respond to the committee’s recommendation, and the landlord later called to tell Annette that she was being evicted.

The property owner at first refused to extend the lease at the full price but relented under pressure from a renter’s advocacy group.

“While at the time I felt justly and fairly treated by the RAC committee, there’s a bit of a trap door in that they have no enforcement authority, “she said.

Though she is employed, Annette said she is paying 50 percent of her income in rent and cannot afford an additional rent hike she said the landlord has planned to implement when her lease is up.

Another speaker said the city lacks senior housing. In Marin County the list of homes for seniors in 10 pages long.

“When I come here there is nothing,” she said. "It’s surprising how little affordable housing there is in Alameda and for the disabled.”

Another tenant who pays $1,800 a month said she got an increase to pay for a bathroom sink that was so poorly maintained that it fell at one point. Her rent takes up two-thirds of her salary, the tenant said, and her rent increases come around the Christmas season, when she had a hard time absorbing the added cost.

“Don’t tell me that your wife doesn’t have to work or that you got your kids into a top school and the rent is going up,” she said.

But at least one property owner said landlords are not making the kind of profit tenants claim. Due to higher operating costs and taxes, most rental property owners are making proportionately less than they did 10 years ago, the woman said.

A parcel tax approved by voters to benefit the Alameda public schools added an additional $5,000 a year to the cost of operating one of her properties, she added.

Property owners will get a chance to tell their stories at the next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, November 19 in the Alameda High Cchool cafeteria.

Comments

Submitted by DinDoNuffin (not verified) on Thu, Nov 13, 2014

Here's a thought: if you cant afford to live somewhere, move somewhere else! It's what many people do all the time.

Submitted by C. (not verified) on Fri, Nov 14, 2014

I thought that meeting was supposed to be for renters to tell their stories. Why was a landlord there? They are having their own separate meeting with Mr. Cambra. The fact there was a landlord there is exactly why I and other renters I know stayed away from meeting. With the rental market so tight few tenants want to risk being labeled a "problem" tenant that is complaining in public. If I were there I too would have highlighted the lack of affordable senior housing in Alameda. There is a 3 to 5 year wait list (with no guarantee of getting in once your name comes to the top of the list) at Independence Plaza. And that is for "market rate" 1 and 2 bedroom units. It's a shame that affordable below-market senior rental housing was not part of the plan for Alameda Point because we surely need it for those of us who had hoped to age in place in the town we've lived in all our lives. The other thing I would have said is that there has to be some kind of acknowledgement from City leaders that tenants feel vulnerable in this real estate market. When you see rents increasing by $500 to $700 a month over a one year period in your neighborhood and you are already paying as much as you can afford it is worrisome. When a place becomes vacant the landlords in our neighborhood are raising the rents by at least $500 a month, if not more. Few people on fixed incomes or salaries that have stagnated over the past decade can scrape together money needed to move without a lot of effort. We live in fear our landlord will decide to sell our property in this hot real estate market or move one of their relatives here. There is a reason renters are not going to show their faces in public - it is because they do not want their landlord or representatives from the handful of large property rental agencies to see them in public speaking out about their fear of a rent hike or eviction. We know Alameda has become the "go-to" bedroom community for SF and Silicon Valley workers (as evidenced by the tech buses) and we also hear that foreign investors are scooping up Alameda homes at record prices with all cash and turning these homes into expensive rentals. Our current landlord has been fair to us, so far, but when we have to downsize we wonder if we will be so lucky again. We are researching where we will move when we can no longer afford Alameda. I'd also say that those who complain renters don't have to pay for tax increases are off the mark. Every rental I've ever lived in has passed along tax increases by raising my rent. It is not those kind of incremental increases to which renters object because usually they are small and we can see them coming. What we object to is the threat of large increases and what we fear most is having to move out of one rental and finding that there just is no longer anything available in Alameda in our price range. Some of us envisioned being able to retire here on a reduced income. We just assumed we could rent a smaller place and pay less rent - but now the smaller places are renting for much more than we will be able to afford. If Alameda is without affordable senior housing it will lose a lot of wonderful people who have been long-time volunteers and civic participants in this town who have life long roots here and that is sad.

Submitted by Jonez (not verified) on Fri, Nov 14, 2014

"If you can't afford to live somewhere, move somewhere else?" That has to be the best comment ever to summarize the stupidity that goes hand in hand with greed. By pushing out lower income people who the hell do you think is going to cut your grass, wash your dishes, take care of your children, sell you your groceries, and pour your drinks? We all can't move to Modesto and commute to Alameda, Oakland, and SF.

Submitted by New to the Island (not verified) on Fri, Nov 14, 2014

The people who are screaming that their rents are going up should go talk to the people who are screaming that their is too much potential development on the island. That development will create new housing, some of which will be affordable housing. But god forbid we add any new housing stock and increase our commute times by 5 minutes. Oh, and according to the new mayor, everything is fine:

http://www.trishformayor.com/platform/hot-issues/#hot-rent

Submitted by Alameda Renter (not verified) on Fri, Nov 14, 2014

People like to say "if you can't afford to live somewhere, move somewhere else", as if that were a realistic option for most people, but it is not. Moving is expensive. Relocating to a new area and finding work takes time and money. Often, areas where rents are less expensive precisely because there is a lack of well paying jobs in that area. Telling someone for whom a $150 a month rent increase is a hardship to move somewhere cheaper is to ignore the realities of the problem.

Here's a better suggestion: if you own enough property that you can actually rent some of it out for profit, stop being greedy. If you don't want to see some kind of rent control enacted in Alameda, manage your rentals such that you are not driving residents out of the city with extortionate rent increases.

Submitted by New to the Island (not verified) on Fri, Nov 14, 2014

One thing that C. brought up, that I hear no one discussing, is the number of foreign investors, particularly from China, looking to park their money in Alameda and the rest of the Bay Area. Talk to any real estate agent and the number of Chinese investors making all cash deals in the Bay Area is astounding.

Many countries have limitations on foreign investors buying property. Why does the US not? These investors are looking to park their money in the US because investing it in their own country's real estate market is incredibly risky. Which is perfectly reasonable, although perhaps housing should be treated a little differently. But I guess it's great if you're a seller. But if you are a buyer or a renter who is looking for a new place, you're feeling the direct effects of so many foreign investors driving up prices.

Submitted by SadStateOfAffairs (not verified) on Sat, Nov 15, 2014

Live somewhere else? It became unaffordable. Not the other way around. It was affordable, then the owner wanted more, because that's the name of the game. Where I stay has an owner that lies to your face and so it rolls down hill to his employees/property managers and renters get the shaft each and every month they meet their rent. He wants more money for less product. Can you imagine? And the smoking policy is basically - Fend for yourself. Animal feces policy - Manager doesn't want to clean it up. Probable a good time for a thorough inspection of the owners dealings. Wake him up a little. It seems apparent that, yes, many foreigners have and will continue to make offers that the owners can't justify against selling out. Look at Comcast, and many other businesses. If they didn't sell out, then why such a drastic change in customer relations policies.

Submitted by C. (not verified) on Mon, Nov 17, 2014

I hope Mr. Cambra reads the Alamedan and will take everyone's comments to this article into consideration.

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Tue, Nov 18, 2014

The housing crisis is a regional crisis, and for Alameda because we have not built rental housing in 40 years it has exacerbated the problem.

The obvious way to solve our problem is to build more rental housing with an emphasis placed on senior housing.

I certainly hope this solution is explored as one of the solutions to our local housing and rental problem.

Submitted by kathryn (not verified) on Wed, Nov 19, 2014

I was at that meeting and I was immediately struck by the way the room was arranged. All the "audience" chairs faced the "stakeholder" tables across a wide expanse of floor. The people representing the tenants' interests were at tables in the back. In front were the tables "representing" the landlords, which had a silencing effect on the audience as well as the tenant rights people. I am surprised and dismayed that Cambra, a professional mediator, made such a bsic mistake. Furthermore, this meeting was for tenants, yet up front and facing the audience were the landlords. They should not have been at the tables. They should have at most been in the audience. Then they were allowed to speak. This was not their venue. They needed to listen only. Then people wonder why more people didn't speak up? The entire scene was intimidating. I would also like to re-address what others here have spoken about and which I brought up at the meeting: who is buying up all the property? I don't believe the rent increases are.caused by local, private owners. Blackstone has been buyiing up properties through certain realtors and flipping them into rental units. They are now the nation's largest property owners. And everywhere they have done this (Atlanta, los angeles, etc.) the rents have skyrocketed. Exposure and disclosure must happen here. Otherwise local tenants and local private landlords are and will be pitted against each other. Corporate strategy: divide our community, then conquer it.