Community members voice concerns over raising rents in Richmond
on September 16, 2015
More than a dozen Richmond residents complained of big rent increases during a community forum last week, suggesting that some landlords are trying to get a step ahead of rent control.
Richmond’s City Council enacted rent control legislation in July and the controls were due to take effect in late August. Instead, the ordinance was suspended when opponents filed a referendum. Now, some Richmond tenants say they are suffering a consequence that nobody at City Hall may have intended: Some apartment owners appear to be inflating rents more than normal before controls took effect, tenants say.
“It’s too much,” Delmy Barrera, a Richmond renter and mother of two, said at the forum. “This is the price you’d expect to see in San Francisco, because of all the tourism. But here? No.”
At the meeting, sponsored by the Contra Costa County chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Barrera said she has lived in her studio apartment for three years and paid $600 a month since she moved in. After rent control was suspended on Sept. 4, she received a letter from her landlord telling her to pay $1,250 starting in October.
She declined to reveal the name of her landlord, but did provide a phone number. A man who answered at that number declined to comment or identify himself.
The California Apartment Association, a business group, circulated a controversial voter petition to present to the City Council, suspending the rent control ordinance. The group filed the petition with the Richmond City Clerk, prompting a review to confirm whether the signatures on the petition are valid. This effectively suspended the implementation of the rent control ordinance.
Contra Costa County election officials have 30 working days to verify the signatures, which some people allege may have been collected under false pretenses. If the agency verifies that enough valid signatures were turned in, the City Council will either repeal the ordinance or place it on the November 2016 ballot.
Richmond residents active in the push for rent control said they were seeking rent stability against the rising cost of living in the Bay Area. Last week’s forum at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center gave tenants an opportunity to voice their frustration.
Juanita Stevenson said she has lived in her apartment complex for eight years paying $945. Her first notice of an increase came last week.
“When the rent control passed, that’s when I got my letter that they’re raising the rent,” Stevenson said. “We’re going to have so much homelessness in Richmond because of this. I’m going to be one of them.”
Mayor Tom Butt insists that rent control is not the answer. During an interview in his Pt. Richmond office, Butt said Richmond still has the lowest rents in the Bay Area and there’s no proof rent controls will help those who actually need it.
Other opponents of rent control argue that government-imposed limits have negative lasting impacts on communities by reducing the incentive to create new housing. The apartment owners group says the suspension of the ordinance in Richmond will allow the community time to review long- and short-term implications.
Already, landlords appear to be moving quicker than policymakers.
Tenants last week said they are now suffering the consequences whether intended or not. Without rent control or many affordable housing options, residents said at the forum that they fear their city will become financially out of reach for the people who have called Richmond home for decades.
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