Giving renters a voice in Palo Alto | October 8, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 8, 2021

Giving renters a voice in Palo Alto

Group forms to advocate for rights of residents who make up almost half of city's population

by Lloyd Lee

For years, Angie Evans talked about bringing together Palo Alto renters to push the city to protect the rights of tenants. She saw the need clearly in 2019, when the new owners of the President Hotel evicted its tenants and the City Council declined to intervene.

But it wasn't until city leaders finally broached the subject of rental protection programs in early 2020 — and the COVID-19 pandemic increased anxieties nationwide about housing security — that Evans saw the perfect moment to launch the Palo Alto Renters' Association with seven other tenants, in the hopes of giving non-homeowners a voice in the city's government.

"There wasn't an exact thing that made this happen," Evans, 38, said. "It was more like we finally had a group of people who were all interested in working on tenant protections."

A year later, the grassroots group is in the process of attaining its nonprofit status. It's also developed four priorities: creating a citywide rent registry, developing a public education campaign, and tackling issues of tenant harassment and subsidized housing.

Ironically, about half of the group's founders have since left Palo Alto due to challenges created by the pandemic, according to Evans. The remaining founders declined or did not respond by press deadline to requests from the Weekly for interviews.

"People have asked to remain anonymous because it's really hard to fight for renters' rights when you know it's so easy for your landlord to take your house away," said Evans, a longtime housing advocate and Palo Alto renter since 2014.

The group's founders included a mix of renters, young adults living at home with their parents, vehicle dwellers and homeless residents. Though there's no formal membership program yet, Evans said that the association's email Listserv includes around 200 people: teachers, grad students, parents and residents of apartment complexes and multi-family homes.

"I think if you're going to authentically do renters' rights work and engage renters, you really have to bring the voices of long-term marginalized tenants together in that decision-making body," she said.

For Evans, a few glaring numbers propelled the association's creation: Rental households make up nearly half of Palo Alto's housing stock, yet few renters are represented on the city's public boards and commissions. Earlier this year, when the City Council opened applications for Palo Alto's Housing Element Working Group, about 40 out of the 80 applicants were renters, Evans said.

Out of 17 seats, the city selected one market-rate renter, two below-market-rate renters and one Realtor who owns two homes to serve on the working group, which will help the city update its housing programs and policies. Despite the four appointments, Evans said she believes that renters remain vastly underrepresented.

According to the group, a key starting point for protecting tenants would be the institution of a rent registry, which would provide baseline information about the city's rental environment.

Already aiding in this effort is Lauren Bigelow, a fellow from Partnership for the Bay's Future (an organization focused on affordable housing in the Bay Area), who was brought in by the city. Part of Bigelow's work involves creating a profile of Palo Alto's renters and researching policies that would benefit them.

Since the group's formation, the city has started looking closer into rent protections. In April, the Planning and Transportation Commission unanimously approved two programs that will track the city's inventory of rental properties and provide renter relocation assistance. On Sept. 23, the Human Relations Commission also unanimously recommended four policies that the City Council will consider in November: expand relocation assistance, reduce evictions, prevent rent gouging and create a renters survey. The commission still has an additional five policies to review.

At the very least, Evans said, she's optimistic the City Council will support a rent registry.

"A rent registry is kind of a no-brainer," she said. "It provides us with accurate data we need to develop the best public policies for our city."

The association's funding largely comes from a grant from [email protected], a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing. Part of the money pays for a part-time staff member, Christian Beauvoir, whom the association hired in July to be a community organizer and the public face of the group.

The group is fiscally sponsored by Palo Alto Forward, a nonprofit that focuses on housing and transportation. The sponsorship allows the Renters' Association itself to operate like a nonprofit organization.

Evans is also the executive director of Palo Alto Forward — a position that has drawn flak from some of the organization's more vocal detractors — but said she is the only member of the Renters' Association's steering committee who comes from Palo Alto Forward. While the two organizations focus on overlapping issues, the goals of the Renters' Association are geared more toward tenant protection, she said.

Evans traces her local housing advocacy back seven years ago, when she volunteered to help the Mountain View Tenants Coalition rally support for Measure V, which established rent control in Mountain View in 2016.

Her experience with the coalition has guided her more free-handed and grassroots approach to raising awareness about the Renters' Association.

On a recent weekday, Evans and Beauvoir canvassed downtown Palo Alto, where a mix of large and small apartment buildings as well as multi-family homes blend in with the neighborhood of single-family homes. Living in Palo Alto for seven years and experiencing firsthand the arduous search for affordable rent, Evans seemed to know exactly which buildings were apartments, multi-family homes or condominiums, as well as interesting tidbits about a home's rental history, and who some of the more notorious apartment property managers are in Palo Alto.

With Evans' guidance, the two stopped by each apartment or duplex and stuck flyers on front doors and parked cars to advertise the group's first in-person public event at Johnson Park on Sept. 26.

"One of the reasons (Measure V) won is because we just knocked on every door," Evans said.

The association's Sept. 26 event drew dozens of people, including Council members Greg Tanaka and Greer Stone, employees from Palo Alto Mediation Program and Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, who were there to educate renters on existing resources in the city.

Most of the 30 or so participants were renters, like Wilma Vaughn, 76, who has lived in Palo Alto for more than 30 years. Vaughn said she was interested in learning more about how the group was bringing together residents to advocate for tenant protections.

Alexis Ixtlahuac, a 31-year-old attorney, came with her friend to show solidarity with other renters who may not be in a more ideal housing situation like she and her husband are. Both pay below-market-rent for a two-bedroom duplex. Her husband is also a medical resident at Stanford.

"It's beautiful here. There's so many good things about living here" said Ixtlahuac, who recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles' School of Law. "But the cost of living is the worst part."

Hebe Garcia-Bolio, a former accountant for Deloitte, was eager to share her housing history, which at one point included a car parked in Modesto. Last month, Garcia-Bolio's luck changed. She learned that the application she had submitted in 2017 for a one-bedroom apartment at Palo Alto's Sheridan Apartments, an affordable housing community, had been accepted.

Garcia-Bolio said she clearly recalls the date — Friday, Aug. 13 — when she signed the contract, which guarantees that her rent will never exceed more than 30% of her income.

Evans also counts her blessings. She knows what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck and to have unstable housing.

"You stay until your rent goes up," she said.

Currently, she and her husband pay "way below-market-rate" for a single-family home in Crescent Park, where she said she regularly sees Mark Zuckerberg run through the neighborhood. Evans is able to keep her rent low because of a generous landlord, she said. She's lucky in that sense.

"But luck isn't public policy," she said.

Email Editorial Assistant Lloyd Lee at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 8, 2021 at 9:42 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Hope this effort includes commercial tenants who've been forced out due to greedy landlords who want to reap record-high office rents. I've already lost my pet store, dry cleaners, framers etc. to this rents of $15,000 a month!!! for single storefronts.

We can't keep displacing resident-serving businesses while pushing for more soulless density.


Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2021 at 12:10 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Angie, the work you are doing in behalf of renters is extremely important! We are losing so many families every day because of rent hikes! Thanks!


Posted by Jess Phillips
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2021 at 12:28 pm

Jess Phillips is a registered user.

Landlords who are also facing financial defaults and extended expenditures due to the coronavirus might beg to differ with this association.

With the eviction moratorium now past, Unlawful Detainers will be in full swing and very lucrative for eviction law firms who excel in expelling tenants.


Posted by Citizen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2021 at 2:04 pm

Citizen is a registered user.

After the state unlawfully forcing private property owners to carry tenants financially through the pandemic and.beyond without full compensation, now this. Private property owners should also form groups to defend their rights against state and political and tenant power plays. Why would anyone be interested in investing in housing in CA with this kind of activity and with attempts at public shaming for people simply trying to earn a lawful return on their lawfully owned privately property? I wouldn't.


Posted by Midtowners
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2021 at 9:00 am

Midtowners is a registered user.

Will this group will also advocate for the “Palmer Fix” to make sure that anticipated new rental housing projects (produced from a raft of recently enacted development incentives and new RHNA requirements for 6000+ new units) include a minimum percentage of units with below market rate rents?


Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2021 at 10:56 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

“Alexis Ixtlahuac, a 31-year-old attorney, came with her friend to show solidarity with other renters who may not be in a more ideal housing situation like she and her husband are. Both pay below-market-rent for a two-bedroom duplex. Her husband is also a medical resident at Stanford.”

Is my understand of this paragraph that an attorney and a Stanford Medical intern are sharing a below market rent? Why do such well to do folks get a break on rent when other people have much more ned for assistance?


Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2021 at 11:39 am

Anne is a registered user.

While I'm very sympathetic to the plight of Bay Area renters, I found this statement by Angie Evans stunning:

".....it's really hard to fight for renters' rights when you know it's so easy for your landlord to take your house away,"

She doesn't seem to understand that it is not her house?

Landlords beware.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 10, 2021 at 12:06 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"She doesn't seem to understand that it is not her house?

Landlords beware."

Nor does she and the YIMBY's -- Yes in MY Backyard -- understand that it is not HER or THEIR backyard either.

They should rename themselves YITBY, as CeCi wrote in her letter to the editor. Another local wit prefers GOOMBY -- Get out of MY Backyard.

Voters and politicians beware.


Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 10, 2021 at 10:51 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

I notice in the table an assumption that somehow 30% of one's income is the maximum we should pay for housing. This seems likely to be a carryover from many decades ago when living expenses were different than they are today. For example, the cost of food has dropped dramatically over the last 50 years. Shouldn't living cost guidelines be re-examined and corrected to fit modern living conditions? It doesn't seem unreasonable to me to be paying 50% of income toward housing in an area like Palo Alto, as long as you can also comfortably cover your remaining expenses with some margin for unexpected events.
For example, singles will likely pay different percentages than will couples, and those with children will have much higher "other" expenses than those without children living with them.


Posted by Lyle Latimer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 11, 2021 at 10:51 am

Lyle Latimer is a registered user.

I own rental properties (both residential and commercial) in several communities throughout California and was severely impacted by the eviction moratorium.

I now have the option to either evict or collect on some past due rents.

And since there is an alleged housing shortage in certain areas, the displaced tenants can easily be replaced by those who can now afford to pay via long-term leases and harsher penalties for default.

Landlords have a right to make a living too.


Posted by Ray Fiers
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2021 at 12:38 pm

Ray Fiers is a registered user.

Housing is like a Monopoly game.

If one cannot afford to own a house at Park Place, you live within your means and reside on Mediterranean Avenue.

Simple as that.


Posted by Angie Holguin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2021 at 12:56 pm

Angie Holguin is a registered user.

SVILC has assistance for Covid-19 Rent Relief assistance for those that are behind on rent. Contact us at 408-894-9041 and schedule an appointment with our housing coordinators. You can also visit us for further assistance or more information on our services @svilc.org.


Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 14, 2021 at 6:17 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

"The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions". Or in this case, well-meaning but economically and politically ignorant intentions. God save us from trying to save people who can't or don't want to be "saved". That's just a great waste.


Posted by C
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 15, 2021 at 10:22 pm

C is a registered user.

Because of telecommuting, rents in more expensive areas of the Bay Area, such as Palo Alto and Menlo Park (?) have already decreased. Palo Alto has more housing (eg. near where Fry's used to be) and apartments have sprung up all over Mountain View's San Antonio Road.

With our failing health, the Coronavirus and resulting moratorium, increased marginal tax rates, an oncoming recession, and hopefully income from investments, we're thinking of no longer renting our houses, or renting them to relatives who have helped us during the pandemic when we could not leave the house.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 15, 2021 at 11:39 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@C, that's right. Rents at the Villages on San Antonio are down dramatically. One reason that's been suggested is that Facebook no longer needs the units for its remote workforce. The complex already has retail /restaurant vacancies and will have more when the retail/restaurant building at the corner of El Camino get converted to more!!! offices.

Another factor depressing rents is from the huge new complex right across San Antonio -- and all the new cookie-cutter buildings opening along El Camino.


Posted by toransu
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2021 at 12:47 pm

toransu is a registered user.

@Anne You seem to be forgetting that renters also have rights. Just because you ghoulish landlords might own a property doesn't mean you have carte blanche to just do whatever you want when someone is renting from you. You're not above local and state laws, no matter what you think.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 16, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"".....it's really hard to fight for renters' rights when you know it's so easy for your landlord to take your house away,"

She doesn't seem to understand that it is not her house?"


@toransu, Where did Anne say she or landlords were above the law? She's merely stating the obvious.

What about renters? Are they above the law?

What about commercial landlords that destroy small resident-serving businesses to try to attract more profitable offices? The city seems to let them act with impunity.


Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2021 at 4:34 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Both tenants and landlords have rights that must be observed if you want the system to work.

Over the years, economists have studied various rent control and tenants rights schemes. Such approaches often destroy housing, especially "affordable" housing.

One explanation for this is that landlords cannot afford to stay in this business without paying their bills and making some profits. Pushed to the wall, they find ways to escape.

In the last two years, the government has forced landlords to house people without being able to collect rents. The government should have shouldered this responsibility if that is what the voters wanted. My guess is that we will have less affordable housing after this than we did before.

I am not a landlord (thank heaven!) but I sympathize with them. They are the unsung heroes of the pandemic.


Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 16, 2021 at 5:47 pm

eileen is a registered user.

rsmithjr, actually, there are many landlords who have very little expenses associated with their property. I'm talking about property owners that, thanks to Prop 13, pay very little property tax or money on upkeep. 40% of homes in Palo Alto are rentals and many of those owners have moved away. My husband and I lived in a Palo Alto home for 7 years and the landlord did zero upkeep but still raised the rent every year. Many property owners are charging high rents because they can, not because of financial hardship to them. I'm not sure what can be done. Rent control is not a good option. New housing will be more expensive to rent.


Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2021 at 6:02 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

eileen,

Good points.

If we had more competition in the supply of housing, this would improve the situation. This is hard to do with the position that we have created for landlords.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2021 at 6:50 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Lets be honest. Landlords are renting out for profit. Regardless of property taxes, not all homes rented out are paid off. Between mortgage payments and property taxes they're not in the business of giving renters a good deal. If you want to call the shots, buy your own property. If you can't afford it, continue renting. Unless you're a college student, it doesn't make any sense to rent in Palo Alto. Move to a more affordable city and buy your own home. If you choose to rent for "zip code" purposes - there are consequences.


Posted by Optimist Pessimist Realist
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2021 at 1:56 pm

Optimist Pessimist Realist is a registered user.

Private property owners and landlords who don’t like this group should consider moving to a gated community that doesn’t allow renters. That way they won’t be disturbed by those exercising rights they find disagreeable.


Posted by Optimist Pessimist Realist
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2021 at 2:03 pm

Optimist Pessimist Realist is a registered user.

Local Resident, people living under rent stabilization aren’t subject to your approval in order to rent a place, if that’s the case with the lawyer and medical resident. If their landlord just happened to kindly offer a rental rate that’s below market, that’s their business. Also, medical residents don’t make that much money.


Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 18, 2021 at 9:47 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

@Jennifer,

Landlords and everyone else work for profit.

My grandfather, an Iowa farmer, got up at 4am in the morning to collect the eggs and then to work the corn fields. He needed to sell these things so he could feed, cloth and educate my mother. My father went to work at 6am at the John Deere factory where he cut gears for cotton pickers (they have very complicated gears in the head assemblies). He did it for the money to feed and educate me.

The carpenters and plumbers who build apartment buildings are paid from the money provided by investors who expect profits from rentals. Their projections assume market value over time. What else can they do?

Few investors have faith in the viability of affordable housing in this community. The stock is aging, and much of it will be replaced by something else.

We need to understand the position of landlords and work with them if we are to have new affordable housing in any quantity.


Posted by ccb in midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2021 at 9:23 am

ccb in midtown is a registered user.

@ rsmithjr, A M E N. @ toransu, A M E N.

Palo Alto Landlording Association, anyone? Because who knew? Without landlords, there are no tenants.

[Portion removed.]

Maybe the obvious bears repeating. Without landlords, there ARE no tenants. Or tenant organizations for that matter. So somewhere in there, said tenant organization might consider THANKING their landlords for providing dwellings for them to rent.

While we're at it, how about losing the violence in the front page headline word choice "fighting". Doesn't sound like much fighting is going on anyways. Wouldn't "Advocating for Renters" have been sufficient?


Posted by Ryan
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2021 at 8:54 pm

Ryan is a registered user.

Funny how renters criticize landlords for charging market rent, but then the get upset when their employers doesn't pay them market salaries.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 21, 2021 at 10:28 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Or living wages and benefits like the gig workers.


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