Tenants engage in partial rent strike at two Richmond apartment buildings
on April 3, 2015
On Wednesday evening, a group of tenants at two apartment buildings in Richmond participated in a partial rent strike over rent increases. After working with organizers from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), the tenants decided to only pay their landlords the value of their rent before the increases, handing over checks for the old amounts to the buildings’ on-site manager.
The apartment buildings are located on 1200 and 1300 Bissell Avenue. Each building has 20 units. The rent increase affects all 40 units in these two buildings. Tenants living in the buildings are mainly low-income families with children. Many of them only speak Spanish. The buildings are owned by Guadalupe Campos and his son Eddy Campos, who declined to comment for this story.
Tenants received a rent increase notice near the end of January, and the new rate started in April. A one-bedroom apartment will see a $75 rent increase from $950 a month to $1,025 a month. A two-bedroom apartment will see a $200 rent increase from $1,000 a month to $1,200. Tenants who live in two-bedroom apartments said this increase is on top of an approximately $50 increase served last year.
Juan Rodriguez and Gabriela Mercado have lived in a two-bedroom apartment for 8 years. Gabriela is not working right now, and takes care of their daughter. “$200 is a lot of money that we don’t have,” Juan Rodriguez said. ”We are going to try to cut the payments on something else to get the rent payment.” Rodriguez works a machinery maintenance position in a lighting company. He said if the rent keeps increasing, he might have to move out of Richmond, or live in a smaller apartment, which he feels will not be good for his daughter.
Stephanie Alvarez lives with her husband in a two-bedroom apartment. Their two daughters have just moved out. Her job is seasonal, and in between work she has to rely on unemployment to subsidize her income. “When I have to rely on the unemployment, it’s really struggling trying to pull my rent together, because I get a set amount. I don’t have my job income. So it is rough,” Alvarez said. “I still have [to pay] for food, my utilities, just basic necessities. I mean it’s hard.”
Mayor Tom Butt has defended the rent increase arguing in his e-forum newsletter that the increase “may sound like a lot,” but the average rent in Richmond for a two-bedroom was $1,422 at the end of 2014, which means the apartments “even at the new $1,200 rate are 17% below where the market was three months ago.” (His data comes from a research company called RealFacts that specializes in apartment market research. Nick Grotjahn from RealFacts said their research method is to call property owners directly and record the data.)
Butt also wrote that the landlords decided to increase the rent because they need to “protect their investment and stabilize their cash flow.” The Campos family recently paid $10,000 in property taxes and last year they spent $30,000 on a new roof, according to Butt’s newsletter. Butt praised the Campos family’s work ethic and their rags to riches experience, writing that Guadalupe Campos emigrated in the 1960s to the U.S. from Mexico and worked hard as a garbage truck driver in San Francisco. He saved money for years and invested in rental properties in the Mission District in San Francisco and the apartment buildings in Richmond, Butt wrote.
“I heard he [Guadalupe Campos] is coming from where we came from, so he worked hard and he got properties, which is good I think. We support that as well,” Juan Rodriguez said. “But he got to remember where he started and help people as well, because we wanted to succeed as well.”
Councilmember Jovanka Beckles said that the mayor is “out of touch with the reality of everyday people.” She said the reality is that people’s income is not increasing, while their healthcare cost and rents keep rising. “Just because that’s the average, doesn’t mean that that should be the case throughout Richmond, especially when you are talking about impoverished areas,” she said.
Tenants have also complained about the conditions in their apartments. “The apartments are in really bad conditions,” said tenant Roberto Bernabe. “Everybody’s complaining because everybody has some problems—with the plumbing, with the mold, with everything.” Bernabe said in his apartment, the carpet has not been changed for 7 years, there is mold in the bathroom and there are cracks all over the ceiling.
Also, he said, there is only one on-site manager who is responsible for all the repairs for the 40 units. “This is ridiculous,” Bernabe said. “How one person can take care of 40 units?”
Butt said in his e-forum that the city inspected the rental units in September, 2014, and gave the buildings a clean bill. In a recent visit, city inspectors didn’t find significant problems, he wrote, but “a list of mainly cosmetic issues.” Butt also visited the building personally on March 28 and found the units “clean and well-kept,” according to his newsletter.
Vice Mayor Jael Myrick disagrees. He said last year when the city inspected the buildings, they were fine. “But more recently we received complaints,” Myrick said. “My understanding is that those complaints were valid, in that we sent new inspectors to the building as recently as Thursday and Friday, and that they found there were still some issues.”
Butt said in his e-forum that he negotiated a 25 percent rollback on the rent increase with the Campos family. Tenants have confirmed that on March 31 they received notices stating that the increase for two bedroom apartments will be $150 instead of $200. The landlords have also committed to “no more increases for a year,” according to Butt.
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