The Struggle for Renter Protections in Richmond

“Richmond’s rents, like rents all across the Bay Area, are rising sky high, causing much hardship and displacement. It’s very important to slow down this tide of rising rents. We don’t want outrageously high rent increases to continue, such that more and more struggling renters are forced out of our city.”
Even when developers promise to construct “affordable” housing, the housing is usually not affordable to poor and homeless people.

Even when developers promise to construct “affordable” housing, the housing is usually not affordable to poor and homeless people.

 

by Lynda Carson

On February 23, the Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition, a united group of renters, homeowners, organizations, local elected officials, community activists and labor, filed a proposed ballot measure to protect Richmond’s tenants against unjust evictions and unfair rent increases.

The Richmond City Clerk has 15 days to write a title and summary for the Initiative. The Coalition will have until June to gather 4,198 signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. The Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition is made up of community members including Tenants Together, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Richmond Progressive Alliance, SEIU 1021, AFSCME Local 3299 and the California Nurses Association.

Richmond City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin said, “Richmond’s rents, like rents all across the Bay Area, are rising sky high, causing much hardship and displacement. It’s very important to slow down this tide of rising rents.

“That is why we are working to put our Richmond Fair Rent, Just Cause for Eviction and Homeowner Protections Ordinance on the November ballot. Richmond is home to a wonderfully diverse, mixed-income community, and we want to keep that diversity and mixture of incomes. We don’t want outrageously high rent increases to continue, such that more and more struggling renters are forced out of our city.

“Our ordinance allows 100 percent CPI increases. This is a reasonable increase for landlords. Our renters need protection, and as an elected official committed to helping those most in need in our community, I am proud to be involved in this important effort.”

Claudia Jimenez, a homeowner in Richmond who is a community organizer with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), said, “The Richmond City Council passed some renter protections including rent control, and just cause eviction protections that were supposed to go into effect last year to protect Richmond renters. However, the California Apartment Association (CAA) spent a lot of money to hire people who gathered enough signatures for a petition that blocked the renter protections from going into effect.

“Some of the signature gatherers came to my door and lied to me, and tried to trick me into signing the petition. They said that the petition will strengthen renter protections in Richmond, when it actually was a petition meant to block renter protections from going into effect.

“The best way for us to protect Richmond renters from increasingly high rents and unjust evictions is to bring this ballot measure to the voters. As a homeowner in Richmond since 2009, I support this renter protection ordinance because it will help to stabilize the community. Half of the population in Richmond are renters, and half of them or more pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent. I would hate to see my neighbors have to move and be forced out of their housing because they do not have any protection as renters.”

According to a release from the Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition, “The proposed ballot measure would establish a rent board that would set annual limits on rent increases for the City of Richmond, as well as provide a process for tenants to appeal rent increases. Richmond renters, living in units built before 1995, would be protected from outrageous increases in rent and evictions for reasons that are without cause. Additionally, the ordinance would cap rent increases at 1 percent to 3 percent a year, in addition to relocation compensation for renters that have been evicted unjustly.”

Many landlords evict longtime renters in order to raise the rents ever higher. This massive eviction-for-profit scheme is taking place across the Bay Area.

Many landlords evict longtime renters in order to raise the rents ever higher. This massive eviction-for-profit scheme is taking place across the Bay Area.

 

“A recent poll commissioned by Fair and Affordable Richmond shows that nearly two thirds of voters would vote today to enact rent control and just cause eviction protections. Richmond voters understood that similar limits on evictions and unreasonable rent increases have helped to prevent thousands of middle-class and low-income people from losing their homes, making communities safer and more stable for everyone, and they think the City of Richmond should have such protections.”

Indeed, in the recent past, the California Apartment Association (CAA) has repeatedly meddled in the affairs of the City of Richmond when the council considered passing renter protections to stabilize its communities. The CAA managed to frighten landlords and realtors into opposing any reasonable renter protections in Richmond, and they targeted the Mayor and City Councilmembers in the effort to block renter protections from going into effect. When all of their efforts failed and the City Council passed an ordinance last August that included rent control and just cause eviction protections, the CAA went on the attack again and hired a consultant to come up with a petition that would block renter protections from going into effect.

Eventually, the CAA even ended up bragging about the efforts to prevent renter protections from going into effect. Many Richmond residents claimed that the CAA effort was down and dirty, and many reported being tricked into signing the petition by devious signature gatherers who were paid anywhere from $12.50 to $20.00 per signature, according to numerous reports. Residents said signature gatherers lied to people by telling them that the petition made rent control stronger, or kept rents from increasing, according to testimony from renters and media reports.

It was big money that stole renter protections in Richmond, and the CAA was deeply involved in the scheme to deprive renters of needed protections. Recently, the CAA has also been meddling in the affairs of other cities in Northern California, including the City of Alameda, in an effort to block renter protections.

In Santa Rosa, when the City Council was considering passing measures to protect renters from massive rent increases and unjust no-cause evictions, the CAA, the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and other organizations went into high gear to oppose renter protections.

They spent a small fortune to target the City Council in an effort to block any renter protections, and even made the outrageous claim that renters were against the proposed protections. The multi-billion-dollar housing and real estate industry ran a slick campaign in Santa Rosa and the council eventually lacked enough votes to pass any renter protections.

Back in 2002, there was a huge struggle in Oakland in a campaign to protect renters with a just cause eviction protection ordinance that went into effect, and the community effort has resulted in protecting thousands of renters from unjust no-cause evictions.

In this struggle, community members raised around $80,000 to fund the just cause campaign to bring it to the voters, and the landlord/real estate members that opposed the renter protections spent around $500,000 to defeat the measure. In the end, the supporters of just cause eviction protections won with a narrow victory of less than 3,000 votes.

Rent control has been a huge success in protecting renters and stabilizing communities in other cities in California, and just cause eviction protections have also been a big success in protecting renters in numerous cities.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com

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