Blogging Bayport Alameda

March 3, 2016

Noticing evictions

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:03 am

Based on tweets Tuesday night, the City Council voted 4 – 1 (Matarrese against) to go ahead with the kinda sorta rent stabilization ordinance.  But because some renters felt as though those efforts did not go far enough, they went ahead and filed a ballot initiative for a true tenant lead renters protections.

Yesterday a few news outlets picked up on the details of a new book about what happens to families when their evicted.    While a lot of attention, at least in Alameda, has been on the impacts of a rental protection ordinance on landlords, a lot less attention has been fixed on what happens to the families and people who are evicted.  Highlights from the Atlantic Q & A:

I think that we value fairness in this country. We value equal opportunity. Without a stable home, those ideals really fall apart. Without the ability to plant roots and invest in your community or your school—because you’re paying 60, 70, 80 percent of your income to rent—and eviction becomes something of an inevitability to you, it denies you certain freedoms. A finding of the book is that eviction causes job loss. So for folks that are working for low wages, the lack of affordable housing can cause them to make mistakes at work and eventually lose their jobs. That seems out of step with what we as a nation feel is right, and fair.

The face of the eviction epidemic is moms and kids, especially poor moms from predominantly Latino and African American neighborhoods. We found that about one in five African American women renters report being evicted at some point in their lives. The equivalent is about one in 15 for white women renters. So there’s an enormous discrepancy.

If you’re a single mom who is devoting 80 percent of your income to rent, you’re going to be behind. That allows this relationship between landlords and desperate tenants where tenants get a home, and landlords get the ability to skimp on maintenance requests, without threat of coming under scrutiny from the city. Tenants can report a situation, but it greatly increases their risk of eviction. We have to be mindful of the weakness of certain legal protections under these conditions.

I tried very hard to capture perspectives of tenants and landlords too. Their jobs can often be hard and tricky, and writing them off as greedy or demonizing them really gets us away from the harder conversation that we need to have. One of the questions that I thought was really important to ask was, just how much money are they making? The profit margins are not small. That raises a question: To what extent can we address poverty without addressing the fact that some people make a lot of money off the poor?

Now, there’s this problem of affordability. So what do we do about that? We can do things like provide free legal assistance to families in housing court. But our answer depends on how we think about housing—if we consider it a right, if we consider it central to all these other freedoms and opportunities that this nation provides.

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16 Comments

  1. A thing that also needs to be pointed out is while the focus is often on low-income families (as it should be) – another good example is what happened near me recently. Landlord raised the rent on 4 families $500 per month- so Alameda lost a cop (now in Antioch), a special eds teacher and physical therapist (now in Castro Valley) and a nurse, (one tenant is still hanging on because her child goes to school here but will be gone at the end of the school term) –
    All had to move away from Alameda because they simply could not afford to live here any more. Active members of the community who are gone. l.
    Alameda talks a good game but in the end..it is not ever about community- it is only about $$.

    Comment by librarycat — March 3, 2016 @ 7:13 am

  2. It’s very sad that 150 years after the emancipation proclamation that my people are still victims of poverty. I contend that we need to do something vastly different than we’ve done in the past – because whatever we are doing – it’s not working.

    Years ago when I was a real estate agent, I had a Chinese client that made an offer on a house that I had listed. I had visited my client’s home many times during the offer and counter offer process, and saw that he lived in a home with 10 or more people crammed in a small two bedroom house. I got to know him well during this time. He told me they took turns working in the family restaurant, they shared the housing expenses, and they saved their money to purchase a home. He said eventually each of the families living in this house would earn enough to buy their own home.

    I never forgot the lesson I learned from my Chinese client – the lesson of empowerment. While it looked as if he was living in poverty – he was rich with the desire and the determination to own his own home.

    For my people, standing in victimhood has not gotten us very far – all we need to do is look at our condition, and the article in this post confirms this. If we want to change our condition, we must first change our belief system. This is what I believe we are being called to do — something radically different than what we’ve been doing. Study the models of others who have overcome poverty. How did they do it? What books did they read? Read “Think and Grow Rich a Black Choice” – a great book that opens doors for you – doors in your mind. Because this is where real change begins: In our minds.

    And no matter where you are right now — stand in empowerment and remember the words of our beloved President – Yes We Can!

    Comment by Karen Bey — March 3, 2016 @ 7:45 am

  3. @2. Karen Bey, your example works really well–IF the people involved are healthy, lucky, and able to work. It also works if people are willing to put up with sometimes-illegal working conditions in substandard jobs, or are willing to put their health and the health of their children at risk (in the case of pregnant mothers working long hours in unsafe conditions, for example). The example you cite, of 10 people living in a two-bedroom house, also sounds like it might violate at least the intent of health and safety codes.

    Even if the example you cited is legal, it breaks down immediately–and cannot be applied reasonably–for people who are unable to work due to physical disability, age, military service-related injuries and disabilities, being single parents of young children, and other issues. And these fixed-income (pension, Social Security, SSI disability income) renters are the people who have been most victimized by the 52% average rent increases experienced by many Alameda renters since 2011.

    There is no way a landlord should be raising rents by 52% in four years, regardless of the willingness or ability of her or his tenants to work.

    Your argument seems to be simply that people can get out of poverty by working themselves to death, when upward mobility in the USA is at its lowest point in decades and opportunities are declining for anyone not already privileged. In fact, you seem to be applying the same classist moral judgment to poor people, the disabled, and those who have retired after decades of contributing to society that the white (Calvinist) elites have used for centuries in Europe and the United States to justify Jim Crow and other oppressive measures against the poor and people of color.

    Do you really mean to sound like that?

    Comment by Jon Spangler — March 3, 2016 @ 8:21 am

  4. 3. I understand your arguments, up until the end where you seem to suggest that Ms. Bey doesn’t know Jim Crow when she sees it.

    Comment by MP — March 3, 2016 @ 8:37 am

  5. Interesting sidebar- recently I was told a story of an Alameda landlord who rented a property to an Chinese family and they moved about 14 family members into the property- the neighbors starting screaming bloody murder about parking, noise, activity and other things and they were evicted after 6 months.

    Comment by librarycat — March 3, 2016 @ 8:37 am

  6. I’m not too smart about such things, but I would posit that the legacy effects of centuries of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and white supremacy towards a population that was stolen from its homes and cultures has a somewhat limiting effect on social mobility as compared to those w/ strong cultural and tribal connections who take the affirmative step to try and achieve upward economic mobility.

    It is the mother of all sampling errors.

    While I applaud Karen’s outlook, and her advice can be useful for the individual, it is not a substitute for social policy that seek to repair and repay the injustices done systematically to a population.

    Comment by BMac — March 3, 2016 @ 9:34 am

  7. Jon where do you get 52% average.

    I agree with Karen, I had roommates for years to save money for a down payment. We currently still rent out one room…just to pay the property taxes but it doesn’t cover half the property taxes.

    Comment by joelsf — March 3, 2016 @ 9:45 am

  8. Interesting article in SF Business times: Renters could get thousands in tax breaks if new bill passes http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/real-estate/2016/03/renters-tax-breaks.html

    Comment by joelsf — March 3, 2016 @ 9:55 am

  9. MP, I didn’t just see it, I grew up in the projects.

    Comment by Karen Bey — March 3, 2016 @ 10:26 am

  10. 5 — interesting sidebar — you mention an eviction in the story you heard. Did they tell you how the eviction occurred, e.g. was a court proceeding involved?

    Comment by MP — March 3, 2016 @ 10:59 am

  11. On a lighter side, a tenant modifies his lease in a creative way: http://mashable.com/2016/03/03/lease-birthday-cake/

    Comment by Mike McMahon — March 3, 2016 @ 11:59 am

  12. Karen is successful.

    Spangler is not.

    Bootstrapping beats victimhood every time, and work has made more winners than whining ever has.

    Comment by 'Nuff Said — March 3, 2016 @ 1:47 pm

  13. #10- yes, as far as I know- it took the full magilla- repeated notices to comply, court proceedings, however that type of thing works.. But the neighborhood was in an uproar (as the story was told). It was being cited as a reason why Alameda should not have rent controls so that part was hard to work out. Not throwing people out of their homes for any other reason than greed is not the same as people violating their legal leases but to this person, it was. Rent control would not affect this type of instance at all.
    In this case- seemed to be clear cut lease violations- 4 on the lease- 14 in the house kind of thing?
    I was not there and was hearing it second hand so who knows?

    Comment by librarycat — March 3, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

  14. Here is a big run-on rambling blog post that I ask pardon for in advance

    13. — I’m not familiar with the case. Has it been written up anywhere? You might need to know more facts in order to be able to say whether or not the situation would be different or more costly to remedy under the ordinance (including the eviction provisions) versus under prior law.

    One factor might be the term of the lease involved. If they were 6 months into a 1 year lease, as opposed to a month to month lease, the owner would probably face similar costs before the ordinance and after the ordinance because the landlord would likely have to prove a breach of the lease terms if the eviction were contested in court. If the tenants were month to month in the pre-ordinance period, the landlord would likely have to prove only that she or he gave the proper notice to leave, without having to prove a breach.

    After the ordinance, you might say that it is as if the lease never expires or that the landlord and tenant are always halfway through the lease and that the landlord would always have to gather together evidence and witnesses to prove the breach, if the eviction were contested. I don’t have experience with it and I don’t know if having to prove a breach necessarily or usually increases the legal fees and costs to the landlord over and above the costs involved in proving just that proper notice was given. Even in cases where the only question is proving notice, there are surely ways to prolong and increase court costs and attorney fees. But you can imagine how requiring proof of a breach, by itself, might increase the costs significantly, even in cases that you think should be clear cut. The thought behind the ordinance is that even if that extra cost imposed by the ordinance is unfair to the individual landlord in the case where the misconduct is bad enough to put the neighbors up in arms, it is acceptable to the community that the individual landlord bear that additional cost in order that the overall ordinance have the desired effect. In order to implement the rent control aspect of the ordinance, the argument goes, it is necessary that landlords be threated with that additional cost in all cases or, at least, that is it too impractical to make exceptions or other provision to lessen the burden on the individual landlord in cases so bad that the entire neighborhood is affected.

    The ordinance does permit a limited number of “no cause” evictions with relocation benefits (and that number is not likely to be exceeded because of this type of case alone). It might or might not be cheaper to proceed this way where the tenants are breaching. The landlord probably has to weigh some unknowns such as trying to predict whether the breaching tenants will actually try to contest the breach to the end and make a court proceeding as expensive or drawn out as possible, in which case it might make sense to put emotion aside and pay the relocation benefits (although this may or may not prolong the actual eviction for the landlord and neighbors given the availability of the option of the tenant to demand additional time rather than additional monetary benefits).

    Apologies again for the run-on

    Comment by MP — March 3, 2016 @ 3:58 pm

  15. Today most of us start out with a public education. Some people choose to drop out, some struggle to graduate. Some people have babies without jobs or husbands. Some people like to get high, others may use that money for self improvement. Some people do what they can to help themselves, including living with other people to save on rent. Many people have been victims and slaves, but if you keep seeing yourself as a victim, you may never get anywhere. People have free will and free basic education.

    Comment by Hugo — March 3, 2016 @ 6:42 pm

  16. #15 Exactly, people need to quit seeing themselves as a victim in order to rise above it. It is a choice. Sometimes things happen but instead of cable TV, pay tuition at College of Alameda, there are daycare programs and help if you really want it. I worked 32-40 hours a week and took 15 credits in college and ended up with only $7,000 in loans.

    Comment by joelsf — March 3, 2016 @ 8:17 pm


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