Blanca Retano is one of many Richmond tenants to experience a significant shake-up in their monthly rent this year. This past April, her landlord bumped it up $300-a-month, which jumped the price of her two bedroom to $1,400. She wants to move, but she says it's difficult to find a place for her husband and four kids for less than $2,000 a month. "It's unjust," she told the Express in Spanish, via a translator. She said the landlord doesn't pay attention or fix things, either, which makes it worse. "Hay cosas destruidas, ratones, cucarachas — tenemos muchos problemas con animales."
This is why, on a recent weekday, Retano held a Yes on Measure L sign on a busy thoroughfare out front of the Alameda County Rental Housing Association headquarters. Joined by a contingent of activists from all over the region, the group complained that the RHA, which is funded by its acronym-in-crime the CAA, or California Apartment Association, is spending their money to defeat renter-protection measures such as L.
"We're basically here to tell the Rental Housing Association that they need to stop using tenants' rent money to stop these campaigns to get basic tenant protections," explained Dan Harper, an activist with Tenants Together. He decried the CAA's TV ads and mailers, even accusing them of stoking "racial fears" by suggesting that rent control increases crime. "I think that's part of their strategy, to try to scare people."
Nine Bay Area cities and counties have ballot measures that would enhance renter protections this year. In Richmond, Measure L would also establish a rent board, just like Measure M1 in Alameda, and would cap annual rent increases at the same level as the Consumer Price Index. This means that, if it passes, Retano's rent would only go up $22, instead of $300.
As with Alameda, money has flowed into a CAA issues committee to defeat Measure L in the Richmond — more than $1 million.
Measure Q in the City of San Mateo would also tie limits on rent increases to the annual CPI. It would enact just-cause protections, as well — which would have helped Hermon Segovia remain in the apartment he's called home for the past fourteen years.
Segovia and every resident at his five-unit building on North Claremont Street in San Mateo received sixty-day eviction notices on August 30. "Believe me, all of us were pretty pissed — but first shocked," he said of the letter.
The tenant criticized his city for not defending renters from speculative landlords looking for a quick buck during the housing crunch. "That is absurd. There is nothing in San Mateo to protect the tenants. It's all 100 percent landlord-based."
Same situation in nearby Mountain View, where Measure V would cap rents at 2 to 5 percent annually, and permit only just-cause evictions. But like in Alameda, there's a competing initiative, Measure W, which was put on the ballot by city council and doesn't put a ceiling on rent hikes, instead calling for arbitration.
In Burlingame, there's Measure R, an initiative that Leah Simon-Weisberg with Tenants Together says "the entire city council is against." And there's also big money in little Burlingame to defeat R, to the tune of more than $180,000, financed primarily by local realtors groups.
Opposition has been so busy in all these jurisdictions that there's no money going up against Measures O and J in East Palo Alto, according the city clerk's website. O and J would cap rent hikes at 10 percent and enact some just-cause protections.
The CAA says that, across the board, these measures "don't solve the underlying problem in our community, and that's the availability of affordable housing," according to spokesman Joshua Howard.
But Simon-Weisberg says that, big picture, "these ordinances will address the housing crisis right now, and will have an immediate effect."
It remains to be seen, of course, whether any of them will pass next week.
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