Richmond residents fighting eviction, gentrification
on September 29, 2016
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.”
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