Seniors, Vets, Picket Vallejo City Hall, Housing Authority Over Mistakenly Losing Rent Control

Monday, August 28, 2017
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

“Now you’ve pissed off grandma.”

“Correct the folly! Reinstate rent control.”

“No loophole! Rent control.”

So read some of the mostly hand-made signs held aloft by a couple dozen senior citizens and veterans gathered in front of Vallejo City Hall on Monday in protest of the city’s inaction in re-instating a rent stabilization ordinance accidentally repealed last year.

People like Sandra Wickers, 83, who has lived in a Vallejo mobile home park for 28 years, and Marie Dunham, 84, who has made the same park her home for 40 years, were there Monday.

Part of the group also walked across and about a block down Santa Clara Street to the offices of the Vallejo Housing Authority, as passers-by honked their car horns in solidarity.

This is the latest in an ongoing saga that began a couple of months ago when city officials discovered that in repealing the city’s Rent Review Board last year, they also inadvertently repealed its mobile home park rent stabilization ordinance. This has left those residents, who tend to be low income and/or seniors, completely at the mercy of park owners, who now, technically have no restraints over how much or how often they can raise park rents.

So far, rents don’t seem to have gone up extravagantly among current residents, but new residents are faced with rents double or more what current residents pay, those at Monday’s event said.

At least one man, Mike Frazier, called the situation “a back-handed way around rent control.”

He said he thinks he may be fighting eviction — the notice of which he wore taped to his shirt front Monday — because his park’s owner wants to free up the space, which his family has rented since the 1970s, to raise the rent. This can not immediately be proven, however.

There are 11 mobile home parks in Vallejo, with more than 1,200 residents, protest participant Daniel Jackson said.

Santonio Butticci, 68, and his friend Maria Aranda, 67, are among those who said Monday that they believe if the ordinance isn’t reinstated, and quickly, the rent increases will start hitting current residents.

Aranda, who was in a wheelchair at Monday’s march, said she lost two homes in the Great Recession and has been in a local mobile home park ever since.

“I’m on a fixed income now, and if (the rent) goes higher, there’s no way I’ll be able to do that,” she said.

Louis B. Gonzales, a 72-year-old, 25-plus-year park resident, said he, too, is concerned.

“What are us vets going to do if we get kicked out of these parks?” he said.

Anne Putney, manager of the city’s Housing and Community Development Division and the Vallejo Housing Authority, agreed to come out of her office and speak to the assembled crowd, though she expressed bewilderment at the protest.

“Why?” she said. “We’re working on it.”

The city and not the Housing Authority are responsible for this ordinance, though, as the head of both the housing authority and housing and community development, the situation is partly in her wheelhouse, she said.

“We’re supporting you,” Putney told the group. “We’re trying to get it going.”

Putney said that as soon as the error was discovered, she brought a replacement ordinance before the Vallejo City Council, which chose, at park owners’ urging, to wait until meetings with owners and residents could be had. So far, there have been two owners’ meetings and one tenants’ meeting. It is the second tenants’ meeting that’s holding up the works, now, she said.

The earliest a new ordinance is likely to be adopted is Oct. 10, she said.

The new ordinance so far appears similar to the old one, with some updates and clarifications, Putney said.

The biggest change is a “clarification” of the ordinance’s vacancy control provision — the when and how much rents can be raised for new tenants — Putney said. The new language says rents for new tenants can be as high as the highest rent in the park.

Frazier said that in his park, the manager’s place, which is unoccupied, rents for $1,700 per month, so, his own space, which now costs under $500 per month, could go up to $1,700, should he be forced out and take his home with him, and Putney does not disagree.

Mobile home residents’ situation tend to be unique, in that they own the structure and rent the space. March organizer Terri Pohrman said parks typically won’t take a mobile home that more than about five years old, and most older models aren’t allowed on the streets, anyway. So, most of those priced out of their mobile home also lose it along with their space.

Though Putney said she’s confident that a new ordinance will be in place before most current park residents’ rents are raised, organizers like Pohrman say they’re not convinced, and plan more actions like Monday’s march until something is done.

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