Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Los Angeles Times Exposes Motives of Wealthy Landlords Funding Prop. 98 Campaign, Highlights Human Impact of Eliminating Rent Control

Today's Los Angeles Times article on Prop. 98 exposes the real motive of the landlords funding the ballot measure: to eliminate rent control and renter protections. As pointed out by The Times, eliminating rent control would impact more than 1 million California renters, including hundreds of thousands of retired seniors on fixed incomes, widows, single mothers, veterans and others who would face skyrocketing rents and could potentially lost their homes.

Excerpts from the story are below, and to read the entire article, click here:

“More than 100 owners and operators of apartment buildings and mobile home parks spent nearly $2 million to put an initiative on the June 3 ballot to phase out California's rent control laws.”

“About 1.2 million people statewide are covered by such laws. Los Angeles, which has 626,600 rent-controlled residential units, could be affected more than any other city if the measure passes.”

“Having toiled in machine shops during World War II and worked for decades in other manual jobs, 84-year-old Mary Kubancik felt entitled to live out her years in a pleasant mobile home park in Sylmar. Instead, the frail Kubancik is preparing to move out after 19 years. Her $919 monthly Social Security check won't cover her essentials and the $702 that her mobile home space will cost when the latest double-digit increase takes effect in April. ‘I worked since I was 14 years old, and this is all I have,’ she said, tears vying with anger in her eyes. ‘I had to sell. And this was supposed to be my golden years.’”

“Tenant-rights advocates say that if rent control is phased out, many poor and elderly people will have no place to live. ‘It would literally take the roofs off most tenants' heads who live in rent control jurisdictions,’ said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants' rights group in Los Angeles. ‘Los Angeles would be hit the worst,’ Gross said. ‘Landlords would resort to any action, legal or illegal, to get those tenants out.’”

"‘Homeowners want true eminent domain protections but will not be duped into enacting harmful and deceptive provisions that have nothing to do with eminent domain,’ said Ken Willis, president of the League of California Homeowners.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Homeowners Protection Act Qualifies for June Ballot

Today the Secretary of State officially qualified the Homeowners Protection Act for the June Ballot, ensuring that voters will be able to enact real eminent domain reform. Read the press release here. Of course, the Landlord's Hidden Agendas Scheme will also be on the ballot and they are hoping voters won't notice the provision in their measure that eliminates rent control. But we will be working to make sure voters know this is really an attempt by greedy landlords to line their wallets on the back of seniors and working families.

Last weekend in San Francisco, over 200 people attended a meeting focused on saving rent control and defeating this dangerous "Hidden Agendas" measure. Similar efforts are happening all over the state. To get involved, contact the campaign at http://www.eminentdomainreform.com/.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Landlords Hidden Agendas Scheme Qualifies for Ballot, Time to Save Rent Control is NOW!

Today the landlords Hidden Agendas Scheme qualified for the June ballot. This deceptive measure would abolish rent control and renter protections upon which over 1 million California families rely. California renters will not take this lying down – we are organized and ready to fight this deceptive measure. Ted Gullicksen with the San Francisco Tenants Union highlights their efforts to beat back this dangerous measure:

San Francisco Bay Guardian 1/16/08

Imagine San Francisco without rent control
If we lose rent control, we'll lose not just our homes but also our city

If you think the mortgage foreclosure crisis is big, imagine what would happen to San Francisco if rent control were repealed.

With 180,000 rent-controlled apartments currently housing more than 350,000 San Franciscans, the end of rent control would be disastrous. Literally hundreds of thousands would be forced from their homes and forced to leave the city.

The pain and suffering people would face as they lost their homes would be immense, making the foreclosure problem seem insignificant by comparison. Maybe even worse, repealing rent control would destroy forever the soul of San Francisco, eliminating altogether the city's character and diversity and leaving it nothing more than a wealthy enclave affordable only to the very rich.

Envisioning the loss of rent control and the effect that would have is not fantasy. A statewide ballot measure this June would abolish rent control in San Francisco and all across California.

The measure would also abolish requirements that developers include affordable housing in their projects. That means we could wake up on June 4 this year with all affordable housing in San Francisco gone — unless we all work as hard as we can to save our rent control and our affordable housing.

In 1979, rent control was adopted in San Francisco, and it was accomplished only because thousands of San Francisco tenants made it happen. People collected signatures, made phone calls, walked precincts, packed City Hall hearings, and demonstrated and marched. Through collective grassroots activism, rent control became a reality. Now many of us think of rent control as something we've always had and a law that will always be there.

But we need to face reality: in five months, all limits on rent hikes could be gone. It won't be easy to save rent control, and we need to begin our work now. The fate of rent control will largely be up to voters in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where most California renters live. Los Angeles tenants are organizing and mounting a strong campaign there. We need to do the same in San Francisco.

The San Francisco campaign to save rent control will kick off Jan. 19 with a citywide mobilization of tenants and allied organizations to plan and begin our work. If we're going to save rent control, we need the same level of grassroots activism we had when we fought to get rent control in 1979, and we need tenants to come to the Save Rent Control Convention and begin the hard work to keep our homes.

This will be a working convention: following an overview about the measure, we will map out strategies and plans for fundraising, voter registration and education, media strategies, Web site development, rally organization, and all of the other components that make for a successful grassroots campaign. The tasks are many, and there's not much time.

If we lose rent control, we'll lose not just our homes but also our city. Saving rent control is not a fight people can sit out and hope someone else will do something about.

Ted Gullicksen

Ted Gullicksen runs the San Francisco Tenants Union.

The Save Rent Control Convention will be Jan. 19, 1–4 p.m., at Centro del Pueblo, 474 Valencia (at 16th St.), SF. For more information on the rent control repeal measure, see www.saverentcontrol.net or www.sftu.org. For more information, call (415) 282-5525.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ventura County seeks to protect mobile home tenants

Ventura County board seeks to better control park conversions.
By Gregory W. GriggsLos Angeles Times Staff WriterJanuary 10, 2008Seeking more control over mobile home park conversions, Ventura County supervisors took steps this week to tighten the rules to better protect tenants and prospective buyers.The board Tuesday directed its staff to devise an ordinance modeled after Sonoma County's -- one that recently withstood a court challenge -- to oversee subdivision of mobile home parks. Within the county's jurisdiction are 22 parks, which collectively house more than 2,000 residents."There is no other instance in county government where we don't have the ability to review subdivisions," said Supervisor Steve Bennett, who, along with Supervisor Kathy Long, proposed the ordinance. "These are old mobile home parks. They are really at the edge in terms of their infrastructure."A growing number of park owners in California are converting their properties to condominium-type associations in which residents can buy the land beneath their trailers. With senior citizens and people on fixed incomes making up the majority of park residents, many tenants fear they would not be able to afford to buy a lot or to pay large rent increases, and would be left with no place to park their coaches.In Ventura County, tenants would not have to purchase their spaces after a conversion. State law gives park owners relief from rent-control provisions, except for low-income residents.The proposed ordinance would require that owners notify the county and park tenants before converting their parks. It would also require that tenants be surveyed to determine how many were interested in becoming owners.Park owners would have to analyze how a conversion would affect existing tenants and rents. In addition, the analysis would have to outline the potential to relocate coaches to other parks in the county, determine space availability and estimate costs.Before a park could be converted, property owners would have to provide a comprehensive report on the condition of streets, lighting, water, fire protection, storm water, sewer systems and other infrastructure, and a proposal for funding improvements."This isn't just about rent control. This isn't just about maintaining affordable housing stock in this county, but it's about helping keep people in their mobile home parks," Long told her colleagues before the vote. "It gives the board the ability to look at subdivision requests and to make sure that we protect the public."Supervisor Peter C. Foy, elected board chairman at Tuesday's meeting, cast the only dissenting vote. He said forcing investors in mobile home parks to refurbish a park's entire infrastructure before allowing any sales puts them at a disadvantage."If I want to buy an apartment building, I can just buy it as it is," Foy said. "I believe this is very discriminatory against all [park] owners and anyone who wants to buy their lot."David Evans, representing the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Assn., said park owners oppose any local measures that interfere with the ability to sell land to those tenants who desire to become property owners."We believe this is an area that is governed by state law rather than local ordinances," Evans said. The association "is opposed to any local ordinances that would impede the progress of mobile home park subdivisions."Ventura County planners were instructed to prepare an ordinance for the county Planning Commission's Jan. 31 meeting. If the ordinance is approved, the Board of Supervisors could take up the matter by mid-February.

East Palo Alto council freezes rent hikes

By Banks AlbachBay Area News Group

In a bold move sure to prompt a legal challenge from the city's largest landlord, the East Palo Alto City Council on Tuesday passed an urgency ordinance freezing rent hikes for the next six months.
The unanimous decision, which takes effect immediately, was prompted by roughly 1,300 rent hikes brought on by Page Mill Properties on Dec. 1 and due on Feb. 1. Most of the increases ranged between $36 and $150. But some rents peaked much higher, including one tenant who received a 47 percent increase for a two-bedroom townhouse that was severely undervalued, the company's development director Jim Thompson said.

The council called a special meeting last Thursday to explore passing the ordinance, but the absence of Councilman David Woods made it impossible. Under state law, urgency ordinances need a four-fifths vote, so it was put on hold after Councilman Peter Evans abstained last week, citing numerous irregularities and fear of litigation.

Instead, the council passed a normal ordinance that would have taken effect a week after the rent increases are due.

Woods made it clear early on which way he was swaying.

"To not pass it as an emergency ordinance would be detrimental to the tenants," he said before voting. "I think it's very important we treat this as an emergency."

The city is contending that the increases are illegal under East Palo Alto's longstanding rent stabilization program, which caps rent increases at around 3.2 percent per year, a cost of living adjustment. But the city's rent control, which regulates about 2,500 units, 1,600 of which are owned by Page Mill, also runs on a system using certificates of maximum rent, which the city issues annually.

Over the last several years, the actual rent for hundreds of units has dropped, while the city continued to adjust the certificates at a higher rate. Page Mill based the rent increases off the higher of the two numbers, a discrepancy that has left hundreds of tenants in a tight squeeze between an outdated city ordinance and Page Mill.

"This more than a legal issue, this is a moral issue," Loma Eaves, a Page Mill tenant, told the council. "I ask you to support this moratorium tonight."

Page Mill's attorney, Chris Griffith, of the firm Ellman, Burke, Hoffman & Johnson, told the council it is in violation of numerous laws, and after the decision Mill's CEO David Taran said he plans to sue.

"We have no choice," Taran said. "When we bought those properties, the city told us the certificates were the law," Taran said. "If anyone's been tricked, it's us."

Griffith is claiming that the city may have acted illegally in how it passed the ordinance, that it violated state election law by passing the moratorium, which effects an ordinance passed by popular vote and can only be altered the same way, and that Councilman Ruben Abrica may have a conflict of interest because his name is on a 10-year-old Page Mill lease.

Abrica's possible conflict of interest was one reason why Evans abstained from last Thursday's vote.

Abrica defended his position, however, claiming he only recently moved into the unit six months ago and pays his brother 30 percent of the rent. City Attorney Michael Lawson told the council that Abrica's share of the 7 percent increase set to take effect on Feb. 1 is not enough money to mark a conflict of interest.

The big question - which could be answered in court - is how much was Page Mill allowed to raise rents. If the certificates reflect numerous years that had no increases, can Page Mill bank those amounts and combine them in a single increase?

Outgoing City Attorney Michael Lawson, along with outside counsel Rick Jarvis, are confident the answer is no; Griffith is banking on Page Mill's right to raise rents to the limit on the city-issued certificates.