Concord seniors, advocates battle for rent stabilization as prices rise

(BCN) — When the Concord City Council discussed a rent stabilization ordinance for nearly five hours at a meeting earlier this month, the emotionally charged conversation attracted 67 public speakers, by one count.

Rent is obviously a hot button issue in a community where, between 2011 and 2021, median gross rents increased 62 percent, according to the city.

Higher rents affect nearly everyone who doesn’t own homes. But tenant advocates say high rents likely impact seniors in Concord harder than other groups, as 58 percent of area seniors — according to the Association of Bay Area Governments — are very low-income.

That means about 2,000 households in Concord are vulnerable to displacement, according to the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, a tenants rights advocacy group. The group says about 29 percent of unhoused people in Contra Costa County are over 55.

When public comment closed from the Sept. 5 meeting, the item was continued to the next meeting. The council was supposed to make its decision Tuesday, but canceled the meeting.

Many people in their 70s and 80s spoke at the Sept. 5 council meeting and carried signs and chanted at a protest including about 30 people outside the council chamber before the meeting.

“I live in Concord. And these are supposed to be my golden years,” said 73-year-old Doreena Coon before the meeting. “But I’m still working because I can’t afford to live on my own.”

Coon was with her autistic client and roommate, for whom she’s paid $16 an hour to take care of, and with whom she splits $2,200 monthly rent.

“He doesn’t make much money either. So I take care of him to live,” Coon said. “We rent a house (and) pay half and half because neither of us could do it on our own. And it’s so important because the rents go up, but our wages do not. And it’s scary.”

Concord’s proposed Residential Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which — like ordinances in Richmond and Antioch — would cap rent increases at 3 percent annually, or 60 percent of the consumer price index, whichever is lower.

It would also require just cause for evictions of tenants living in a unit for at least a year. Just cause includes non-payment of rent, criminal activity, material breach of a lease, refusing to allow the owner access, refusal to sign a new lease with similar provisions and duration, and subletting the unit in violation of the lease.

The proposal wouldn’t affect units built since 1995 or landlords with four or fewer units.

Josh Anijar is the director of the Contra Costa Central Labor Council, which represents 86 unions and about 87,000 workers in Contra Costa County.

He spoke to the group outside before the Sept. 5 meeting, saying afterward he has heard “so many stories of seniors and workers being harassed by landlords here.”

Anijar said he has seen people priced out of San Francisco and Oakland, only to come to places like Concord, where history repeats itself.

“People can’t afford to live in their houses,” Anijar said. “People can’t afford to live in the communities they have been in for their entire lives, and raised families, and they’re being priced out.”

Landlords speaking at the meeting frequently cited California’s Assembly Bill 1482, a three-year-old law capping rent increases at 5 percent, plus the rate of inflation, which together can’t exceed a 10 percent annual increase.

They also brought up the economic damage of the COVID-19 pandemic, when they were affected by eviction and rent moratoriums.

“Meanwhile, the year over year increase in garbage service was over 15 precent for 2023 alone,” said Concord landlord Tammy Chen. “In addition, for liability insurance, which we need in order to operate, that increased year over year — the premium was nearly 300 percent. So due to COVID, it has been extremely expensive and difficult for us to perform even simple repairs.”

Chen said landlords also deal with annual inspections, registries and ongoing repairs to aging properties and the behavior of some tenants.

“As it is, it has been nearly impossible for us to stay in business, much less make a profit,” Chen said.

One landlord went as far as to say rent control is unconstitutional. Other landlords pointed to San Francisco and Oakland as examples of what rent control does to neighborhoods, inviting crime and other problems by limiting a landlord’s ability to pay for upkeep.

“This council doesn’t seek to limit other small businesses’ ability to charge for their products and services, but yet somehow — because I chose to buy a small rental property and incorporate myself for insurance liability purposes — I am being told how much I can charge and who I can keep in my property,” said Blaine Carter.

Carter pointed to “massive inflationary cost for materials and labor required to keep my property clear, and safe, and appealing to the community versus turning into a ghetto appearance.”

“If small businesses and rental property is such a lucrative business, well, how come then I still have to keep my day job?” Carter said “And how come I had to borrow money against my 401K to buy a property? And why aren’t any of you in the business if it’s so lucrative and I’m making so much money?”

The Rev. Marie Wilson is the pastor at Concord United Methodist Church. She attended with members of her congregation, praying before the Sept. 5 meeting.

“We have an intergenerational congregation, but mostly seniors,” Wilson said. “I’m standing here to represent the seniors so that they are able to live without their retirement in the city that they work so hard for their homes to keep.”

Wilson said people are living longer now, forcing cities and counties to consider seniors’ needs more.

“However, this is the moral obligation that we all have to work with the community to keep our community safe and keep everyone calm, right?” Wilson said.

Kristi Laughlin, the deputy director for Contra Costa County for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, said seniors have different needs compared to other renters that need consideration.

“The hard part is often they’re physically challenged because of health issues, fragility, (and) mobility challenges. So the hard part is I think they’ve been ignored and marginalized in this conversation. And yeah, so I think we need to speak, raise and amplify their voice.”

Housing activists said Wednesday a diverse coalition of faith leaders, tenant groups, community members, and seniors, will hold a press conference and rally at 11 a.m. Thursday in front of Concord City Hall before delivering 1,000 signatures to the City Council, calling for tenant protections. Concord Vice Mayor Edi Birsan will join the event as a speaker.

Copyright © 2023 Bay City News, Inc.

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