Rents Blog: The wiki edition

Rents Blog: The wiki edition

Michele Ellson

Over the past several months I’ve posted pieces on the phenomenon of rising rents to this blog, in an effort to explain what’s happening with the local rental market, why, and what is (or isn’t) being done to address those issues. (I’ve posted additional stories on rising rents and declining availability outside of the blog; more on those in the paragraphs that follow.)

The story is a big one for Alameda, with potentially broad implications for the face of our community: More than half of the Island’s residents are renters, according to 2010 Census data.

Now seemed as good a time as any to take stock of what we’ve learned so far and to talk about what additional issues we will explore – and to put all of that information in one place. Call it our rents blog wiki edition (and feel free to chime if there’s a story we haven’t covered yet but should).

Here’s what we know so far:

Median rents in Alameda are rising, Census data assembled by City Councilman Tony Daysog show, and while the average Alameda renter pays close to the maximum portion of their income toward rent that’s considered affordable, a rising percentage of renters are paying more than that. Renters’ median incomes, meanwhile, declined over the time periods Daysog studied.

Market rate rents for large complexes jumped more than 13 percent between 2013 and 2014 after remaining essentially flat for a decade, data collected by RealFacts show, though local owners – who make up the vast majority of owners on the Island – say their rents are below market rate. Rental units in Alameda are 97 percent occupied, the data show – a number regarded as full occupancy.

Landlords said the costs of owning property, and not greed, are driving rent increases, and that market cycles dictate when they can raise rents.

A 2014 survey of renters conducted by Renewed Hope found that two-thirds had seen their rent go up sometime in the prior 12 months, and 15 percent were handed rent increases of 10 percent or more. Many renters also expressed fears they could be priced off the Island.

While landlords and tenants are bound by state tenancy laws, Alameda doesn’t have rent controls – and it doesn’t seem likely the City Council will consider them. Renters have said the controls are needed to protect them from rent spikes, while landlords said that rent controls would impact both the quantity and quality of rentals on the market.

Alameda does have a Rent Review Advisory Committee that offers nonbinding mediation to resolve rent disputes, and the committee has had some success.

The rising rents also prompted one Island renter to form an advocacy group, the Alameda Renters Coalition, to provide support and links to resources for renters in crisis. The group, whose Facebook page boasts hundreds of members, is also advocating for more housing development here.

Here’s what I’m working on (and what I could use some help on):

Obviously, the big story that needs to be reported is rent control, and specifically, what works about it and what doesn’t. (Examples of other East Bay cities that have rent control ordinances are here.) I’ll be working on this one over the next couple of weeks; stay tuned.

I’d also like to talk about the supply of houses for sale right now, and how it compares to prior years.

I’ll also be keeping an eye on the City Council to see what, if anything, council members choose to do to address rising rents. On Tuesday council members affirmed their desire to gather information and to take steps to strengthen the Rent Review Advisory Commission, later this spring.

I’ve gotten a lot of requests to provide data on evictions, monthly rent costs and other rental market indicators. I’d love to be able to aggregate this information for you, but unfortunately, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do it. If you have suggestions for a data source I should look at or are willing to help collect some of this data, let me know.

One other thing I’ve looked into: While reporting another rents story someone offered the tantalizing contention that availability of rentals was declining due to Airbnb. I finally got the chance to check into this a few weeks ago. When I typed “Alameda” and “Entire Place” into the search bars more than a thousand listings popped up, but when I clicked through them, most were actually in Oakland. All told, just 33 of the listings were on the Island, and those included several boats and an Airstream trailer.

For good measure I checked out another one of the big rental services, HomeAway, which boasted 25 Alameda listings, including this Gold Coast home, whose owner is asking $5,000 a week (it’s also on Airbnb).

What else would you like to know? Feel free to post a comment, or e-mail me at michele@thealamedan.org, and I’ll see if I can look into it for you.

Comments

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Thu, Mar 19, 2015

The high costs of California housing should definitely be part of the Rents Blog discussion. There is an interesting report on this issue written by the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO). You can see their short interview on You Tube....

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, Mar 19, 2015

Make sure you study the big 20% increase in water and sewer services that EBMUD approved in 2013.

http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2013/06/12/99540/EBMUD-East-Bay-Utility-Distric...

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, Mar 19, 2015

I suggest also that you cover the competing interests of pre-existing residents and special interest groups like the construction industry and trade unions.

The latter is always interested in more construction, high density housing, etc. to drive profits, while the former is interested in quality of life issues that they believe are threatened by exactly what the construction industry wants.

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Thu, Mar 19, 2015

My friends just got "land-lorded" today...steady folks, never been late on their rent once, not in over a decade of renting; they are well-loved neighbors in a neighborhood that has benefited from their family's presence. Their four-year-old was just registered to Pre-K...they watch their neighbor's kids, and vice versa. They have been a welcomed presence on their street, playing a role in many neighbors' lives throughout the years. They constantly look out for their neighbors and the neighbors know and value that.

They had a "60 day notice" taped across their front door today. The cold and inhuman letter inside gave no reason. No "severance package" offered, no offer of assistance in finding a new place to live, no apology for disrupting their lives...Just "get out".

The "landlords" had previously had a very friendly and amenable relationship with these folks. Suddenly, there was NO "human connection" to be found. Just "get out" without an explanation.

This is the very thing that needs to be addressed in this blog!

These people are the epitome of "good neighbors." It was only due to their "looking out for the neighbors" that an elderly neighbor was found to have fallen, and was unable to move due to broken bones. Only because they had looked in on her was she given the care she needed. They have proven themselves valuable members of the Alameda Community, and their neighborhood in particular, time and time again.

And now, that "value" has been completely disregarded, and they are being stressed and traumatized for no apparent reason other than *GREED*.

The person who taped that notice over their door had no concern for them as people...as human beings. They didn't stop to think that there might be other stresses on this family (including the impending death of a parent). No, it was just "get out" with no explanation.

It seems, in the final analysis, greed wins out. Humanity loses. I can guarantee you that whoever moves in after these folks are forced out will probably not get a very warm welcome to the neighborhood.

There was a comment on a previous article about this problem that said "Nobody deserves to be addressed by the word "lord" just because they own property"...I have to agree. The sickest bit of all this is that this family is being pushed out by people who once treated them as human beings, but when the "final blow" came, they dis-associated themselves completely from the human-ness of the people they are "evicting".

And this is where my mind's jukebox plays John Lennon's "How Do You Sleep At Night?"

The "HUMAN COST" of Alameda's rent situation MUST BE ADDRESSED!

Submitted by David (not verified) on Fri, Mar 20, 2015

b. - I don't follow... how do you know it is the landlord's demand for higher rent that is behind the lease termination?

Alameda has no rent control, so it's not like they need to move someone out to be able to raise the rent.

Submitted by Alameda Landlord (not verified) on Fri, Mar 20, 2015

What an awful thing to happen to anyone. I am a tenant that loves my neighborhood, but I am acutely aware that I reside in that neighborhood at the behest of my landlord. If I want to insure my presence there, I must buy a house there. If you rent anything, a car, a room, a bike, then you are subject to the terms of the owner. If I want a longer notification time, or any other terms of rental ie a pet, then I must negotiate them up front when signing the rental contract. The landlord is not my friend, and is not doing me a favor. It is a business transaction that I will terminate when I wish to relocate or do not wish to pay the rent amount or obey the rental terms. The landlord may decide to increase the rent, rent the place to other tenants or simply to move into the unit. Losing a neighbor obviously has a big impact on the neighborhood, but that is the nature of the beast. Rents have DOUBLED in Alameda over the past 3 years for new units or units which tenants have vacated. The only thing keeping rents down, are the long term tenants, whom landlords are usually reluctant to charge "current market rate" rents. It comes down to some hard facts, which are if you can't afford to live in Alameda, or the Bay Area, then you must leave, as no renter has a "right" to live in a house they do not own. And if you wish to control where you live, then you need to buy. I am sorry for this family and would not wish this on anybody, and as a renter I am subject to similar treatment. But, I am also a landlord and see the other side of the coin. I would not like to put my family in hardship, because a tenant can not afford a rent increase or deny my kids college savings because I do not charge the rent amount the market allows. Is it greedy or inhumane, it is hard to say? If you want to judge, I guess it goes to what use the money is being put to. No matter how thin the dime is, there is always another side to the coin.

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Fri, Mar 20, 2015

Interesting you mention that the landlord may "simply move into the unit."

If that's the case here, they will find themselves in less than amicable circumstances. Seems these folks DID live in the house once, and all the neighbors pretty much disliked them, and were glad when they left.

If they are pushing out this well-loved family to move back into the house, they definitely won't be receiving any "welcome to the neighborhood" by the rest of the folks on the street.

These people told my friends that they would be "first in line" if the house were ever to be sold. So much for their "word". And this whole entire affair was begun by a phone call from the "management company" saying they were coming to inspect the house, assuring my friends there was nothing to be alarmed about, just a routine termite inspection"...so they began this process with and out-and-out, blatant lie.

I don't have to "judge" them...their behavior pretty much tells everyone everything they need to know about them!

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Fri, Mar 20, 2015

David: The "mother in law" on the first floor of the house was recently vacated and re-rented for more than twice what the previous people were paying. It's all about money.

What I object to is the utter lack of humanity in it all. If you're going to screw someone's life up, at least be honest and straightforward about it as soon as you've decided to do so. Don't skulk around behind lies and fake "inspections"...

Submitted by neil (not verified) on Fri, Mar 20, 2015

David: you surely recognize the more important difference in interests is between "pre-existing" (different from existing?) homeowners (not all residents) and people who don't own homes--tenants (existing and prospective) and prospective homebuyers. I think by pitching this as a conflict between residents (by which you mean homeowners) and developers, you're trying to divert attention from the more important conflict. Rent control is no one's idea of an ideal policy but it becomes a legitimate demand when the housing market is distorted by artificially suppressed supply. Economic theory gives us no reason to expect socially optimal outcomes in the presence of distortions such as restrictions on landowners building housing. This is the underlying reason for the conflict.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Fri, Mar 20, 2015

Neil - I can't make heads nor tails out of what you are trying to say, but my point is this:

Several self-interested parties make the argument that endless new high-density construction is the solution to the problem of rising rents, and adjacent problems. This agenda puts them on a collision course with people who already live in the community ("pre-existing") and who don't want the endless new high-density construction. We see it in Alameda, and other cities throughout the Bay area.

Submitted by neil (not verified) on Sat, Mar 21, 2015

Let me simplify it for you. If you don't address supply restrictions (by allowing property owners to develop their land as they see fit), how do you fix the housing affordability problem, assuming, that is, you think there is one?

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Sat, Mar 21, 2015

Well, my friends had it confirmed to them yesterday that yes, they are being forced out after eleven years of being pretty much perfect tenants so that the owners can go in, do a few things and rent it for more than twice what my friends were paying.

So, YES: GREED!

Pure, unmitigated greed.

These people also own several other houses in Alameda, and DO NOT LIVE IN ALAMEDA, so I would imagine that there are probably more than a few other people whose lives have been recently disrupted (and possibly ruined) by these mercenary property owners who have NO HUMAN CONNECTION TO THE COMMUNITY OF ALAMEDA WHATSOEVER.

I surely hope that Karma gives these inhuman monsters what they deserve.

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Sat, Mar 21, 2015

For all the people who go into spasms when the words "rent control" are said, here's an alternative:

There should be a "Long-Term-Renters' Protection Law" that states that IF a landlord is forcing out a long-term renter with a flawless record just so that they can go in and paint, put in a few new things and jack the rent up to "current market rate", then they MUST provide the long-term tenant with a lump sum equal to two months plus deposit at the "current Market Rate" for a space equal to what they are being forced to leave. That would at least give folks a fighting chance to find another home on The Island, rather than being heartlessly told "if you can't afford you must leave"...Maybe they COULD "afford" if they were allowed a chance.

If they're going to force someone out in order to "take advantage" of the market", then they must pay an amount of money to the tenant being forced out so that THEY can find somewhere else to rent "in the market". That way, the long term tenant would not be being taken advantage of.

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Sun, Mar 22, 2015

To put things in perspective, there is a housing crisis in the Bay Area because San Francisco has become the new Silicon Valley as technology and new start up companies have opened offices in San Francisco. There are several reasons for this – but one reason is the tax exemption ordinance passed by SF to entice companies to move and stay in San Francisco. As a result, workers have flocked to the region because it has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. There are now more people employed in San Francisco than at any point before in the city’s history.

Alameda is located just 20 minutes from San Francisco, and as a result we are directly impacted by San Francisco’s job growth and related population increase. One impact is a housing shortage caused by the increase in population, and the lack of housing inventory.

To address the housing shortage – the state has mandated that every city in the Bay Area provide its share of housing – Alameda included.

I happen to think there are benefits to providing our share of housing, and here are a few:
One benefit of providing our share of housing – is that home prices will start to level off as there are more homes to buy, and more apartments to choose from. Another benefit is the development impact fees and taxes paid by new development to offset the impact of their development. These fees are collected from the developer at various stages of development. Another benefit is more parks and open space and the taxes we will collect to maintain them. One example is the $2M the city collected from the Del Monte development for the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, and the transfer tax fee that will go towards park maintenance.

Another benefit to providing our share of housing is the transit fees and taxes paid for by new development to help cover the cost to improve and upgrade our transit systems. Each new home buyer will be required to pay an annual transit fee to pay for shuttles, and AC transit passes and other transit upgrades. So in addition to the developer paying impact fees, new home buyers are paying one as well.

I disagree with you David that people are suggesting “endless new high-density construction” in Alameda – just our share to address a housing crisis caused by a surging economy in the Bay Area.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Sun, Mar 22, 2015

Interesting... in one thread, we have some people arguing that the answer to fixing the affordability crisis is allowing property owners to do what they see fit with their property, and on the other hand, we have other people arguing for greater governmental restrictions on property owners to fix the affordability crisis.