Tom Butt
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  Richmond Tenants Are Pushing Back Against Rent Hikes, Alleging Poor Living Conditions
July 9, 2022

This addresses the article from today’s East Bay Times, “Richmond tenants are pushing back against rent hikes, alleging poor living conditions.”

Poor public policy choices by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) City Council members (McLaughlin, Martinez, Jimenez and Willis) are penalizing renters.

As the economy recovered from the great recession and rents began to rise to pre-recession levels, the Richmond Progressive Alliance and their partners, like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, panicked and thought they could reverse the laws of economics by adopting rent control. They wrote the worst rent control and just cause ordinance in California and convinced voters to pass it.

What they did not do is enroll in Economics 101, or maybe they slept through the class on supply and demand. As those of us who did not sleep through that class know, when demand exceeds supply, the price goes up. The one thing that could have exerted a downward pressure on rents was increasing supply, but the RPA City Council members have been obsessed the last few years with making sure that does not happen.

They have fought new residential construction with a vengeance, such as Point Molate and Campus Bay, which included over 6,000 new units, including affordable housing units, as well as providing additional funding for even more affordable units. The RPA City Council members famously killed a 130-unit affordable housing project proposed for Central Avenue near I-80.

Just this last week, the RPA controlled City Council affirmed significant fees on affordable housing developers, penalizing them to pay for the bloated and rising cost of Richmond’s Rent Program.

One result of rent control and just cause in Richmond has been a shrinking of the rental housing supply. There are fewer units for rent in Richmond now than before rent control and just cause was passed. Rental housing developers have largely given Richmond a pass because of its excessively egregious ordinance. Landlords who were renting out single-family homes before rent control and just cause have sold them to owner-occupants, taking them off the rental market to avoid the just cause portion of the ordinance (single-family homes are exempt from the rent control portion).

The one thing rent control has not done in Richmond is lower rents. For complex reasons having nothing to do with rent control, rents in Richmond have remained remarkably stable for years, and they have trended lower than the annual increases allowed under rent control and just cause, indicating that rent control has had no effect in capping rent increases. The graph below from Zumper shows a decrease in Richmond rents for studio and 2-bedroom apartments. This brings into question, why even have rent control when the allowable annual increases typically exceed those in the Richmond rental market?

Landlords pay millions of dollars in fees to support Richmond’s Rent Control Program with few benefits for renters while reducing the incentive to build new rental housing.

Regarding complaints about conditions of rental housing, Richmond also has a robust rental housing inspection ordinance that requires inspections every three years, and California State law requires landlords to maintain habitable rental units. Anyone with complaints about rental housing conditions can contact the City of Richmond Rental Inspection Program, also supported by fees charged to landlords, or the Rent Program.

Figure 1 - Source:

Richmond tenants are pushing back against rent hikes, alleging poor living conditions

Even though Richmond is one of the Bay Area’s cities that has implemented its own rent control policies, those measures can only do so much to ease the blow of rising housing costs

Exterior view of the buildings on the 1300 and 1200 Bissell Avenue in Richmond, Calif., on Friday, July, 8, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

By KATIE LAUER | | Bay Area News Group

PUBLISHED: July 8, 2022 at 4:15 p.m. | UPDATED: July 9, 2022 at 5:03 a.m.

When Irene Maldonado became pregnant with her second child four years ago, she and her husband realized they could not continue living in San Francisco if they wanted to provide a home big enough for their growing family.

They eventually moved into the Bissell Avenue Apartments in Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood. But while the two-bedroom apartment’s $2,000 rent was more manageable, Maldonado, who works as an enrollment specialist for social services, questions whether living in the complex is worth even that much, complaining of allegedly faulty plumbing, dirty red carpet lining the outside stairs, crumbling kitchen and bathroom cabinets, deteriorating balcony supports and an unresponsive maintenance staff.

Yet, she said an extra $92 was tacked onto her rent this month, which has been eating up anywhere from 50% to 80% of her and her husband’s paychecks, especially since he relies heavily on tips.

If the currently affordable housing options move out of reach, whether due to cost or safety, Maldonado fears her family may have to move, too.

“I don’t want anything fancy, but I constantly have to ask and wait for repairs,” Maldonado said. “It’s a burden every day — coming home and you don’t know what’s going to be broken. The last time it started flooding, if my husband hadn’t been there, we would have come home to everything ruined. It’s always a constant worry to not know what’s going to happen next.”
Maldonado’s struggle is not unique.

Several Bissell Avenue tenants protested outside of their landlord’s Hillsborough home this week, asking to reverse rent hikes they think are unfair, a sentiment echoed by many of Richmond’s renters across the city amid rising housing costs and inflation.
Courtesy of Edith Pastrano, a lead organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment in Contra Costa County

Courtesy of Edith Pastrano, a lead organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment in Contra Costa County 

Richmond residents have more protections than renters in other cities, such as Antioch, where elected officials are only recently considering passing new housing ordinances for rent control and just-cause evictions. In accordance with Richmond’s rent ordinance, the Bissell Avenue Apartments are completely rent controlled, since the 20-unit, two-story complex was built in 1985.

However, because rents have not increased in recent years, the building’s landlord is allowed to “bank” an extra 5% in rent hikes. In 2021, that meant costs could increase by 6.6%.

Eddy Campos, who helps maintain the property his father, Guadalupe Campos owns, does not think the critiques of the buildings are fair. He said his staff provides maintenance and takes care of issues as they are reported in a timely manner. He said they often have trouble scheduling repairs and questioned whether tenants have properly flagged all problems needing attention.

But even though Richmond — where around half of the roughly 37,000 habitable housing units are rented — is one of the Bay Area’s cities that has implemented its own rent control policies, those measures can only do so much to ease the blow of rising housing costs.

Starting in September, the city’s five-member rent board gave landlords the green light to increase rents by 5.2% — up from the 1.6% cap currently in place. Shiva Mishek, vice chair of the Richmond Rent Board, said landlords do not have to ask for the full inflationary increase from their tenants, but the board, by law, can’t cap that rate.

Seeing how tenants are struggling to afford current increases, housing advocates worry that even more people will be at risk of homelessness when that change takes place.

That’s already a persistent problem in Contra Costa County, which saw the biggest jump in its unhoused population in the entire Bay Area, counting 3,093 people without housing this year — 35% higher than 2019’s tally.

Edith Pastrano, a lead organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment in Contra Costa County, said her organization will implore the Richmond City Council at the end of the month to at least implement better code enforcement and inspections.

“What we’re really pushing for is dignified housing,” Pastrano said. “It’s not fair that working people have to bust their ass for a roof over their head that is literally crumbling.”

That would give Pedro Ramirez, who has lived at Bissell Apartments for the last three years, some reprieve. Splitting costs with a roommate, their monthly payments were also raised in July to $2,024 – 6.5% higher than last year – in order to stay.

“It is very difficult, even between two of us,” Ramirez said, “to cover that expensive cost of rent.”