Rents Blog: The Alameda Renters Coalition
Rents Blog: The Alameda Renters Coalition
When Angela Hockabout was priced out of her rental home in 2013 after being handed a $450 per month rent increase, she felt like she had nowhere to turn. But thanks to Hockabout, that’s no longer the case for others in her situation.
In September she founded the Alameda Renters Coalition, which provides information and moral support for renters experiencing crisis and also, advocacy for renters’ needs.
“My main thrust is just providing support to renters and helping them find resources to fight rent increases,” Hockabout said.
In the less than six months since its founding, the coalition has become a central player in the debate over rising rents, setting up a hotline for renters in crisis, building connections to services and the real estate community and also, a Facebook page to discuss rents issues that boasts nearly 500 members.
“We are in our infancy, and we have already achieved so much,” she said.
Hockabout said she started the coalition’s Facebook page after being “shut down” during a Facebook debate over housing development in the Del Monte warehouse, which she supports. She felt there should be a safe space on Facebook where renters could share their stories about rising rents and lost housing.
She said she expected maybe 20 people to sign up for the Facebook page, but “folks flocked to it.” The group started having live meetings, which attracted the attention of Jeff Cambra, who asked them to engage in a community effort to bring renters and landlords together.
In addition to the Facebook page and meetings, the coalition has created a hotline for renters who are facing steep rent increases and the loss of their homes.
“We’re getting all these different situations where landlords are trying to put the squeeze on renters, and renters need support,” she said.
Beth Chiarelli joined the coalition “in sheer frustration” over the annual, 10 percent rent increases she’s received at the complex where she lives. She’s been told that an even larger increase is coming when her lease is up.
“If anything, we can support each other, voice our frustration and seek help with an empathetic ear,” Chiarelli said. While rent control or other change that could aid renters may take years to enact, she said the coalition is “mobilizing and gaining momentum.”
As a onetime resident of both New York City and San Francisco – both cities with rent controls in place – she said she didn’t anticipate the larger rent increases she’s experienced here.
“To do a 10 percent increase, a 12 percent increase every year – it’s not sustainable,” she said. “I don’t get a 10 or 12 percent increase in my pay every year.”
Chiarelli said she e-mailed City Council members to protest after her first rent increase, and only heard back from one – who urged her not to press for rent control. That same council member, who called for her support while on the campaign trail, connected her with the coalition.
Chairelli, who said she’s planning to move to the North Bay in search of lower cost home prices, said she hopes the coalition can help create stability for families – many of whom, Hockabout pointed out, lost homes after the 2008 economic meltdown.
Hockabout said she thinks most renters agree that increases are normal, and part of the process of renting; she said she agrees that property owners should be able to see a return on their investment. That said, she said getting “huge” increases or being forced to move in the middle of the school year with just 30 to 60 days’ notice – the minimum amount state law requires – can be disruptive for families.
“It’s an abuse of the market to raise rents so high that people are forced to leave their homes,” she said.
In creating the coalition, Hockabout said she wanted to extend Alamedans’ neighborly nature to provide support at a time when people feel vulnerable and alone.
“This is a crisis. This is a trauma. It feels almost like a personal attack,” Hockabout said of big rent increases and renters’ loss of homes. “When you’re doing it by yourself, it’s harder to pick yourself up and move forward. With help, you can see other possibilities.”
The coalition provides moral support to renters who are experiencing crises, she said, offering words of support, hands-on assistance or even a hot meal. It also directs renters to resources like ECHO Housing, an Alameda County agency that provides advice to renters and landlords, and the Rent Review Advisory Committee, a city body that provides non-binding mediation in rent dispute cases.
“We want to be a tool for renters to become more informed, understand the rights that affect them and the rights that they do have, so we can be more informed consumers,” she said.
She’s attended some of the committee’s hearings, though she noted that landlords are under no obligation to abide by the decisions it makes because it lacks enforcement power. That said, she said the coalition seeks to put pressure on landlords who treat tenants poorly and that it can raise awareness of those cases.
Hockabout, who said she has met some “amazing property managers” who also oppose big rent increases, said that she’s just beginning to grow the coalition’s network. She said the coalition has set up a steering committee and is solidifying a regular meeting place and time.
She hopes to add resources including a real estate expert who can explain what happens during the walk-through after renters leave a home or apartment and sympathetic property owners who can help renters in crisis find new housing. The group could even branch out into politics, backing candidates who support renters and supporting housing development on the Island.
“It’s hard to say at this point what the future is,” she said. “I want to see what we’re able to come together on. I’m really hopeful we can come together on a solution.”