City Invested in Preventing Displacement and Gentrification
With the passage of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act in 1995, rents began to rise dramatically in Berkeley and neighboring communities as landlords were given the right to set new tenancies at full market rate. Due to these substantial rent increases and the allure of market rate rents, many tenants living in rent-controlled units found themselves being coerced and harassed out of their long-term homes. Often tenants were served with eviction notices through technical or evasive context.
The City has taken multiple steps to address the growing problem of displacement. The Rent Stabilization Ordinance, passed in 1980, prevents exorbitant rent increases and prevention of eviction except for cases of just cause. However, this only applies to multi-unit buildings built before 1980 and faced further weakening under Costa-Hawkins. In 2017, I introduced the Tenant Protection Ordinance to bring an end to harassment of tenants and deal with habitability concerns. Other ordinances that have been introduced over the past few years to address displacement include the Tenant Buyout Ordinance and the Short-Term Rental Ordinance.
To prevent homelessness, the Berkeley City Council recognized that there was a need to significantly expand capacity in several areas. For fiscal years 2018/2019, through Measure U1 funding, the City Council expanded legal assistance resources. These additional resources would reach tenants of extremely low, very low, low and moderate incomes who were covered by the Tenant Protection Ordinance/Tenant Buyout Ordinance/Short-Term Rental Ordinance and Hoarding Cases. Prior to adding this additional funding, anti-displacement legal representation was limited to low-income tenants covered by the Rent Control Ordinance.
EveryOne Home, the Alameda County homeless continuum of care provider, has identified prevention as one of the primary ways to stem the tide of people becoming homeless in their updated Strategic Plan. Their stated goal over the next five years for Alameda County is “to be able to assist 2,500 individuals and families per year with temporary financial assistance and legal support” to keep them from becoming homeless. Funding provided by the City through Berkeley’s contracts with the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and Eviction Defense Center (EDC) is doing its part to help Berkeley meet this goal in our community.
As of June 2018, the combined efforts of these two organizations has expanded Berkeley’s ability to serve an additional 375 households with legal defense and keep them in their homes. Services to these households include pre-litigation services, limited scope/pro-per assistance, direct representation and in-depth/resource intensive/short of representation. The following is a couple of examples of actual cases where EDC and EBCLC reported having provided representation/assistance.
Mr. R was a long-term tenant paying $760/month and who was being evicted for non-payment of rent. His management company was well known in Berkeley for engaging in predatory practices, especially directed towards vulnerable and long-term tenants.
In his late 70’s, Mr. R had just finished treatments for cancer and during this time, fell behind in rent. The treatments had left him weak and easily confused.
A rent grant was approved and the landlord’s attorney was contacted with an offer to pay all the back rent. The attorney responded that the only settlement option would be if Mr. R vacated and insisted that Mr. R leave his home. After the 3rd court appearance and on the eve of a jury trial, after almost 100 attorney hours, the landlord final agreed to let Mr. R stay in his home. The rent was paid and the case was dismissed. Contact with Mr. R continues to make sure he is doing well.
Ms. D is an 81-year-old woman who has lived in her apartment for more than 30 years. Her landlord served her with a notice of lease violation and threatened her with eviction due to excessive clutter in her rental unit – allegedly causing a fire hazard. Personal property had been accumulating over the course of 30 years and had filled the small apartment nearly to the ceiling in every room. Attorneys negotiated with the landlord for an extension of time to remedy the situation and assigned a social worker to work with Ms. D. The team of attorneys and social workers have been helping her over the course of several weeks to sort her possessions and bring the apartment into compliance with applicable codes. They are also working with her to secure continuing appropriate services to allow this senior to remain in her home and continue to live independently. The eviction lawsuit has been averted and the tenancy has been preserved.
Additional stories were provided in the presentation made at the April 2nd Council Meeting by EBCLC and EDC. It is my intention to continue funding these valuable programs funded so we can keep people from becoming homeless and support our most vulnerable residents and I commend the City Council for unanimously approving these resources.