Alhambra residents call for rent control amid skyrocketing housing costs

Photo by flickr user Charleston The Digitel licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

Three years ago Cynthia Salguero moved from Glendale to Alhambra. It seemed like a great place to raise her family: The schools were good, the community was safe and the rent was affordable.

But last year one of those benefits started to evaporate.

New landlords raised her rent by $300, from $1,670 to $1,970 a month. That hike is taking a bite out of a tight budget that she and her husband can ill afford.

“We’re a medium-income, medium-cost family,” she said. “It really hits us very hard.”

The only way Salguero can afford to stay in the apartment is to split the cost with her mother-in-law-and two adult nephews. Now six people share the three-bedroom apartment.

The rent hikes were imposed by Positive Investments, which bought the property in since late 2017. Owned by Rao Yalamanchili, the Arcadia-based commercial real-estate company buyer and operator has been in business since 1976.

Representatives of Positive Investments did not respond to a request from the Alhambra Source for comment.

Salguero said the only interaction she had with representatives of Positive Investments Inc. was when they inspected the building shortly after the purchase. “The inspection itself was done so quick that we couldn’t even say, ‘Yes, we have problems with this, we don’t have problems with that,’” she said.

She said that no repairs or renovations were done that would justify the rent hike.

Salguero said that she attempted to contact Positive Investments multiple times about renegotiating the rent increase. The company ignored her.

Frustrated by the lack of response, Salguero went before the City Council last November, asking the members to consider a rent control ordinance for Alhambra. She was inspired by the Pasadena Tenants Union, which is currently circulating a petition to put a rent control initiative on their city’s November ballot.

Renters are bearing the brunt of the state’s housing shortage, which has pushed up rents across California, including the San Gabriel Valley. According to the U.S. Census’ 2016 American Community Survey, almost 60 percent of Alhambra’s housing units were renter-occupied. Median rent was $1,235, an 18 percent increase from 2010.

Currently in Alhambra, a one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,550 to $1,825 a month, while a two-bedroom rents for $1,650 to $2,100 per month, according to Leona Rollins, director of counseling at the Housing Rights Center, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles and Pasadena, which advises tenants and landlords on fair housing practices.

Like Los Angeles’ rent stabilization ordinance, the measure proposed by the Pasadena Tenants Union would set limits on annual rent increases on some rental units and would only allow owners to evict tenants for certain reasons, such as failure to pay rent or illegal activity.

The Pasadena-based Foothill Apartment Assn. opposes the measure, arguing that rent control unfairly caps landlords’ ability to reap a return on their profit and limits revenue available for maintenance and other costs, such as property taxes. It also contends that rent control discourages landlords from lowering rents when the rental market slumps.

Rent control laws “hurt lower-income tenants and landlords,” said Leon Khachooni, director of the Foothill Apartment Association, which represents individual landlords and mid-sized management companies in San Gabriel Valley cities.

Market whiplash

Khachooni said San Gabriel Valley rents have not kept pace with the market, drawing many renters paying higher prices in Los Angeles to communities like Alhambra.

More landlords are selling to new property owners, including big management companies, which then raise rents in order to bring them to market value, said Rollins.

The Housing Rights Center, which holds drop-in counseling sessions in Alhambra, heard from 230 residents since the fiscal year started in July. More than 20 percent of those were complaints about increased rents. Last year, the organization heard from 400 Alhambra residents, with more than 15 percent complaining about rent hikes.

Rollins said that 60 to 75 percent of their calls every year come from people who the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development would classify as extremely low income.

Because Alhambra and other San Gabriel Valley cities have no rent control or rent stabilization ordinance, the increases reported to the center have been substantial, typically ranging from $175 to $250 a month.

Brenden Pannell, a musician, and his boyfriend, a teacher, live in a two-bedroom apartment in the same building as Salguero. He said that when Positive Investments took over ownership, their rent immediately increased $300, from $1,150 to $1,450 a month.

“I had a sweet deal before, because I knew exactly how many jobs I needed for the month, and I worked out a situation with my clients where I was covered,” said Pannell. “So it was good living at some point. Now it’s just like struggle bus.”

While he understands the landlord’s right to raise the rent, Pannell said that the condition of his apartment doesn’t justify that increase. “The paint is peeling off of my walls,” he said. “I’m missing two tiles in my kitchen floor.”

When asked what California cities could do to make housing more affordable, Khachooni brought up inclusionary housing ordinances, which requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of their units as affordable ones.

Such requirements have been controversial. In 2009, the California Court of Appeals ruled that forcing developers to include affordable units was illegal. But last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing cities to pass ordinances that would compel developers to do this again.

Alhambra City Council member Jeff Maloney said that rent control could be one tool for Alhambra to consider, but cautioned against seeing that as the key to solving a regional housing crisis.

He added, however, that there is much the city could do to provide more affordable housing to residents.

“When new projects come in, we should be talking to them about setting aside some units for affordable housing,” he said. “We need to be encouraging efficient and smart land use where we have opportunities.”

Pannell and his partner are taking the year to find another place to live. “We’ve been struggling since the beginning of the year, but I just don’t think we can stay here anymore,” he said. “Even though we’ve been here for four years, I feel like Alhambra is our home now, so it just sucks that we’re being pushed out of our own neighborhood.”

Salguero said she has considered moving, but doesn’t want to give up the benefits Alhambra offers to families. “I would hate to give up the safety of the area and a quality education for my kids,” she said.

If you have any questions about your rights as a tenant or landlord, the Housing Rights Center has drop-in hours every Friday (except the 5th Friday of the month) from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Alhambra Civic Center Library.

Have a story or opinion about affordable housing in Alhambra? We’d love to hear from you. Please email us at editor@alhambrasource.org.

2 thoughts on “Alhambra residents call for rent control amid skyrocketing housing costs”

  1. Adele Andrade-Stadler

    Alhambra needs a better balanced approach to their development period. Interms of housing, it’s my understanding that the State asks local Government to have enough land to meet housing production goals. “Across the range of income levels”
    Their are a few bills making their way through committees SB828 would increase goals and provide more properties for low and very low income earners. For some of our families in Alhambra, current home and rental costs are outpacing wages earned. We can do more!

  2. I find Councilman Maloney’s statement insincere since he has not advocated or mandated that any of the high-density housing units that he approved as a city councilperson and planning commissioner have a set-aside percentage of affordable units as a condition of approval. At least not that I am aware of.

    The Ratkovitch Company is planning to build over 1,000 new units at The Alhambra development. To date, no city councilmember or planning commissioner has requested that The Ratkovitch designate a percentage of those 1,100 units as affordable. Nor has the Ratkovitch Company stated that they have plans to include affordable units in their 1,100 unit development. They have been asked. Each time the company’s spokesperson declines to comment.

    All this despite the city granting the Ratkovitch a huge density bonus to build the project. Seems to me that since the city is granting a density bonus that will greatly increase the developer’s profits, it is only fair to get something in return for regular Alhambrans, like, say some set-aside affordable units? The Ratkovitch and its majority stakeholder (a Chinese investment firm), will still rake in the dough if they designate10%-15% of their 1,100 units for middle-income people struggling to get by.

    It is time for the mindset to change at city hall from what is best for moneyed interests and the city’s bottom line to what is best for the community as a whole.

    Pay attention to who the developers, city contractors, and real estate interests give their campaign donations to in Alhambra’s 2018 city council races. When moneyed interests can buy political influence those moneyed interests can expect favorable votes from the planning commission and city council, resulting in policies that only benefit a select few to the detriment of the many. This is a huge reason Alhambrans are struggling to pay rent.

    We need solutions and concrete action, Councilman Maloney, not pandering… or councilmembers who take $5,000 campaign checks from developers.

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