Richmond residents fighting eviction, gentrification

Creekview Condominium mailboxes read "vacant" and more tenants face eviction. Photo by Sawsan Morrar

Creekview Condominium mailboxes read "vacant" and more tenants face eviction. Photo by Sawsan Morrar

Residents at the Creekview Condominiums on the border of Richmond and El Sobrante are packing their belongings after receiving notices over the last two months that they must vacate the property.

Beverly Hills-based real estate developer PMI Properties cited moisture and mold in terminating leases for the 114 units. Residents, however, contend that the terminations are just in time for Richmond’s upcoming vote on rent control. If Measure L passes in November, landlords will have to pay a relocation fee to each resident evicted. At present, tenants just have to move on.

“It’s depressing that they are doing this,” said tenant Navjot Singh, who received a notice two months ago. “Landlords are making money and we can’t argue with them.”

Singh rents a two-bedroom apartment for $1800, a deal he can’t find anywhere else, he said.

Some city council members agree that the evictions are more than a coincidence.

Last week, Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin attempted to prevent this kind of situation by introducing a moratorium that would have allowed a 45-day ban on just-cause evictions and high rent increases. It failed in a 4-3 vote.

“I am disappointed in the city council for not approving the urgency moratorium and the landlords who would do something as outrageous as trying to preempt the voters,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously, they are doing it so they can have people out for higher paying tenants. “

The ballot measure would also guarantee tenants a right to return to their units. At present, once the mold in the Creekview Condominium units is addressed, the landlord can rent to whomever he wants.

McLaughlin said it’s not a question about the units needing to be fixed—it’s about how the landlords are handling it.

“The tenants could have been removed to other vacant units until the repairs are done,” she said. “They could have been given temporary housing. This [mold] issue came up a couple of years back, but the fact that they are doing it right before the elections is very suspect.”

PMI Properties spokesperson David Silver said that the evictions were based solely on the need to renovate and maintain a safe and healthy property.

According to PMI’s website, President Scott Sternberg and his company target “gentrifying urban areas” and renovate “obsolete properties into hip, ‘creative multifamily’ apartments that appeal to Gen Y, knowledge workers, the creative class, and urbanites.”

“The landlords are good people,” Silver said. “These accusations aren’t true.”

In a statement, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said that the tenants are victims of “bad design and shoddy construction, as is the owner, who is also suffering significant losses.” The owner could not be reached for comment and all inquiries were directed to Silver.

Moreover, Butt disagrees that Measure L would protect the tenants. While the measure would require a relocation payment, because it does not specify a relocation ordinance or specific payment amount, the requirement is too vague, he said. He called Measure L completely flawed.

While McLaughlin said some tenants are considering legal action, many of them have left in haste to find new housing so they aren’t left without a home in October.

But not everyone has found new housing. Natalie Ebojo and her family struggled to find their $1300 a month apartment at Creekview, and now they need to move out by the end of this month. So far, her family has been unable to find anything nearly as affordable and safe.

“Packing has been stressful for my parents,” she said. “And my commute to school will be longer for me.”

Singh, who is considering moving into a studio apartment with a significant rent increase, thinks developers don’t have Richmond citizens in mind as they renovate.

“They need to realize not everyone has tech jobs and can afford higher rent,” Singh said.

McLaughlin agrees. Fifty percent of Richmond citizens are renters, she said, so protecting them should be a priority for the city.

“We want to slow down gentrification in Richmond,” McLaughlin said. “It still has the potential of still being an affordable place. We want to protect the housing that we have, keeping our diverse and multi-income community.”

14 Comments

  1. mike rose

    I wonder if McLaughlin is willing put up her own money where her mouth is to help these displaced tenants. Or she is just being generous with someone else’s money as all communists are.

    • ritchie cook

      I’ll tell you what measure L means… a rent that working folks can afford. Will it provide additional housing? No, just like life before measure L. Keep your neighbors and possibly your own furniture out of the street and in your apartment where it belongs. Stop coddling the absentee landlord!!! Our hard earned rent money could be funding terrorism!!!

      • Confidential Commenter

        “I’ll tell you what measure L means… a rent that working folks can afford.”

        You mean like in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco?
        You are going to be sorely dissapointed my friend.Things will most definately NOT be just like before. There is no reason to believe Measure L will have any different effect than in those cities I mention. I wish you luck.

        • ritchie Cook

          Those people with rent control in place on their apartments are not asking to have it taken away so they can help an exploited landlord. They rather enjoy not paying $4,000 a month for a 1br. Does rent control add to the housing stock? No. But then not having rent control doesn’t either.

          • Confidential Commenter

            “They rather enjoy not paying $4,000 a month for a 1br. ”

            Well that’s what they’re paying now in rent control cities. You’re not getting the big picture.
            Sure ritchie, as Mayor Butt has pointed out, it’s like a lottery where there will be a few lucky winners but everyone else looses out. And in time even the winners loose out. Think about the point I made above.
            Lastly, rent control not only doesn’t add to the housing stock, it diminishes it making it harder for you to compete for an apartment.

          • ritchie cook

            Cities like Detroit without rent control have diminishing housing stock and houses are being bulldozed down. I haven’t heard of much of that happening in the bay area and when it does it is to provide more not less housing.Look, if say the housing stock were to be increased by 100,000 units in s.f. that would probably have a downward pressure on prices. Like I said before rent control doesn’t have to impede increasing the housing stock. What does impede it is the seemingly endless financial types: Real Estate agents, Title company escrow officers, appraisers , banksters.. loan officers etc… that push the prices up with absolutely no tangible increase in the housing stock.

  2. Confidential Commenter

    Rent control can be implemented in a number of ways. Unfortunately a certain faction in Richmond has insisted upon the particularly unhelpful way called Measure L.
    Measure L is going to cause more negative effects than positive ones for renters and owners alike. The evidence and precedent for that is undeniable and overwhelming. It affects all owners, even the so called ‘good landlords’ that Measure L supporters falsely claim will ” hardly be affected at all.” This simply isn’t true. Every owners costs and risks will go up and they will quite naturally take measures to protect themselves accordingly. The end result of that isn’t going to benefit renters especially those Measure L most intends to help. This is why people keep streaming into Richmond from cities like Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco even though those cities have rent control for many years.
    The version of rent control that was supported by council member Pimple made a lot more sense and would have had more positive effects than negative ones for renters and owners alike. It would have discouraged price gouging without adding the wasteful bureaucracy and added costs and risks to owners that ends up hurting renters more. Also it had enough council support that it could have been signed into law a year ago.
    Gayle McLaughlin certainly means well, but she just doesn’t know very much about the rental business. That’s why everything seems to be a conspiracy to her. More accurately, she doesn’t seem interested to WANT to know very much about it. It’s too bad because we could have already had an effective rent control in place already if she did.
    Measure L, like the Kids First initiative, sounds good and reasonable until you dig deeper into it and discover that they are poorly considered measures that will actually do more harm than good. I urge voters to dig a little deeper and reject Measure L.

  3. Jeffrey Wright

    Just a few questions to ponder concerning Measure L the rent control and just cause eviction measure on the ballot for 11/8/16.
    1. Are you in favor of the creation of a new city department that is autonomous from the city meaning that the City Council, City Manager, City Attorney will effectively have zero control over it?
    2. Are you in favor of this new department being able to set its own budget, hire as many people as deemed “necessary” and use as much general fund money as required to pay for the department including all the employees salaries, benefits and all other department operating expenses, if they fail to generate adequate revenue to be self sustaining?
    3. If you are a homeowner and have to lease your personal residence out for more than 12 months because of an out of area temporary job assignment or perhaps to look after an out of area family member do you want to have to potentially pay thousands of dollars to a tenant just to move back into your own home?
    4. If you have a disruptive neighbor who is renting and the landlord wants to remove this tenant and needs you to publicly testify as to the tenant’s bad conduct and misdeeds are you willing to do that?
    5. If you are a tenant and you need to move into a larger or smaller apartment or house in Richmond do you want to potentially face the highest rents that the market will bear as well as increased scrutiny, evaluation and minimal leeway from property owners who have to make a decision as to who to rent to?

    If your answer is NO to any of the above then vote NO on MEASURE L. If you believe otherwise then vote accordingly.

    *Read Measure L for yourself in its entirety and pay close attention to the language and what it really means. There have been many heart wrenching tenant stories told but what it all comes down to is what is actually written in the ordinance and the impact that it will have on the rental market in Richmond. This is a ballot measure. The City Council cannot fix the defects after the election. If Measure L passes Richmond citizens and stakeholders are stuck with the terms and conditions of Measure L ‘as is’ unless another ballot measure is voted on by the citizens of the Richmond. Evaluate Measure L for yourself and vote knowledgeably and carefully.

    • ritchie Cook

      To numbers 1 and 2 the costs of both will no doubt be a lot less than the rents extracted from richmondians. To number 3 as I understand it single familt homes are exempt. To number 4 whether the neighbors are under rent control or not has no bearing on whether they will testify. To number 5 , rent control is a solution to those that are able to get it not a cause of increased rents.

      • Confidential Commenter

        “To numbers 1 and 2 the costs of both will no doubt be a lot less than the rents extracted from richmondians.”
        Where do you think the multiple millions it’s going to cost to set up and run this bloated bureaucracy is going to come from? It’s going to be paid for by increased rents.

        “To number 3 as I understand it single familt homes are exempt”
        Single family homes are exempt from rent control, but not from the just cause and other parts of the ordinance. Jeffery Wright is absolutely correct.

        “To number 4 whether the neighbors are under rent control or not has no bearing on whether they will testify.”
        Again, you miss the point. A bad tennant is hard enough to be rid of as it is now. It will be very difficult to impossible to remove them under Measure L. Again, Jeffery Wright is absolutely correct.

        “To number 5 , rent control is a solution to those that are able to get it not a cause of increased rents.”

        Wrong again. If your costs and risks go up then the amount of rent charged will go up as well. If you have an affordable rent now that hasn’t been raised in years then obviously that wasn’t due to rent control, but likely a small owner.. But if Measure L goes through no one is going to operate that way any longer. They are going to take every regular rent increase allowed and when the unit is vacated they are going to ask the market rate and be very selective, just like the big companies do. How is that going to help the working class tennent?

        I understand why this measure appeals to you. But the reality is that it’s similar to the Kids First Initiative that even the RPA is against, in that it sounds reasonable but in practice will do more harm than good. Council member Vinay Pimple supported a version of rent control for example, that would have actually protected against rent gouging while avoiding all the negative effects mentioned here and elsewhere.
        Measure L is bad news for all.

        • ritchie cook

          Landlords increase their rents by supply and demand not their costs.Remember before prop 13 passed we were told that rents would go down. They went up. I wish I had your optimism ,but even without rent control not only will they not go down ,but will continue to rise.Look, renters are part of our community certainly a lot more than the absentee landlords like the ones in Texas that own St. Johns Apartments. We need stable communities to be able to have a community.
          There certainly are a lot of evictions for it to be called “difficult.”
          Unfortunately, most landlords will charge, shamelessly, what the market will bear. Measure L appears to be aimed at large complexes , over 4 units correct me if I am wrong.
          Vinay Pimple a very intelligent fellow by all accounts told me that version or “rent control” would have allowed up to an annual 8% increase. Not doubling or tripling like some landlords , but enough to force people out

          • Jeffrey Wright

            Measure L does not exempt apartment buildings that are four units or less. Duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes will be impacted along with buildings comprised of five units or more. Section 11.100.030(d) of the ordinance explains in detail the types of residential units that will be subject to rent control. Measure L is not specifically aimed towards large complexes nor does it exclude high income or well to do tenants from taking advantage of rent controlled units. There are no income limitations. It will be interesting to see how low income tenants and/or tenants with marginal applications compete in the marketplace if Measure L passes. Is it possible that rent control might become a tool that ends up accelerating gentrification? Some people have expressed concern that part of the underlying strategy is to use rent control as a means to reshape communities under the guise of “looking out for low income residents and preserving cultural diversity.” San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland are good examples of communities with rent control that have experienced tremendous demographic shifts.

  4. Sandra Davenport

    Vote no. Nothing more to be said.

  5. ritchie cook

    Think of rising rents as a social cancer that needs to be brought under control, eradication would be even better. More housing, something that capitalism by all accounts, even with the endless government subsidies of V. A. loans and many others,interest deductions , section 8 ( more of a landlord subsidy than renter ?) and who knows what else does a piss poor job of.Terrible sentence structure , but I’m off to “work”.Richmond has plenty of land on the west side of 580 to build housing on. Keep Pt. Molate as Open Space!!!! Rent control will not keep the market forces at bay, but merely slow them down for a relatively small number of generally less well off people As far as measure L being poorly crafted I don’t know that serious rent control opponents would ever say “That looks like a wonderfully crafted rent control rule.”
    We live in a world of the haves, have nots and the… well …the bloated.Our national and increasingly state politics are to be diplomatic “compromised”. Local politicians and city council members should remember who they represent: the residents. I can’t for the life of me see how anyone knowing what I know seeing parents working 7 days a week, can’t find within themselves some empathy, but then Donald Trump is not alone.

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