Town Hall Offers Glimpse into Local Housing Crisis

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Bill Silverfarb
San Mateo Daily Journal

Tenants and property owners packed a San Mateo church Monday night to discuss the region’s housing crisis with many sharing stories of steep rent increases and greedy landlords.

“Emails and letters from constituents triggered my need to call for this town hall,” said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

She shared stories of a 74-year-old Belmont woman who had her rent increase 50 percent overnight and a Pacifica resident who makes over $100,000 a year who cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment considering the increasing cost of child care.

“This is beyond politics and economics. It’s a moral issue,” Speier said.

She noted how most San Mateo police officers and Sheriff’s Office deputies and correctional officers live out of the county.

She also pointed out the imbalance of new job creation in the county to new housing units constructed in recent years.

The county has added 55,000 new jobs but only 2,100 housing units, she said.

Speier was joined by a large group of elected officials and city staff who then listened to the plight of many who have faced no cause evictions or rent hikes of $1,000 overnight.

“This is about renters and for renters,” said Speier, who later pleaded with the crowd at St. Bartholomew’s church to stop using the phrase rent control.

“Can we stop saying rent control. This is not a rent control debate,” Speier said.

San Mateo Councilman David Lim chimed in that he was virtually attacked by the real estate community for being in favor of rent control when he introduced an a temporary urgency ordinance to prevent evictions without just cause.

Property owners in the county can raise rents overnight as high as they wish and evict anyone without just cause.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the county is now $2,575, a 52.3 percent increase in four years.

Foster City resident Amy Shulman said her $2,500 a month rent now takes up 75 percent of her take home pay.

School teacher Barbara O’Neill said she received a $1,100 a month increase overnight and that rent consumes 60 percent of her paycheck.

Some landlords said simply that it is a supply and demand issue and that more housing needs to be built in the area to prevent displacement.

Others said they’ve sought help from the government but that the wait list for Section 8 housing vouchers has thousands and thousands of people’s names on it.

Oscar Vasquez said he had to move his family into the mechanic’s shop where he works after being evicted for no reason.

“Daddy why don’t we have a home,” one of his children asked him while they were essentially homeless. Vasquez said he didn’t consider himself to be poor.

Near the end of the meeting, Speier suggested a “Lifeline” cap should be placed on rents for seniors and individuals with disabilities similar to programs offered by utilities.

“It’s a half-baked idea at this point,” she said.

Many in the audience held signs up mostly urging rent stabilization. Others held signs, however, that read: “Take care of strangers. Why? My aging parents need help 2!”

More than 200 people attended the town hall.

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