Alameda My Word: What’s going on with efforts to address rental housing issues

This article originally appeared in print in the Alameda Journal and online here.

From below: Interested persons can contact Jeff Cambra for more information on how they can participate in the community discussion of housing costs. Also, if tenants and housing providers have experiences they think would be beneficial to share, they can contact Cambra at 510-865-7369 or submit their written description to or P.O. Box 1343, Alameda, CA 94501. Any contribution can be anonymous, confidential or made part of the public record. Specific names of apartment complexes, resident managers, property owners or individual tenants will not be disclosed in any manner.


By Jeff Cambra My Word

Over the past several months, issues concerning residential rental housing have come into public awareness.

Through the efforts of Renewed Hope Housing Advocates, the Planning Board proposed the formation of a task force to address the concerns of residents who rent apartments, condos, townhouses and single-family homes.

Last month, the City Council voted 3-2 to postpone the formation of the proposed rental housing task force and supported the request by Renewed Hope and the city’s major housing providers to come together as a community to identify the issues, become informed about the effects of certain practices and explore possible solutions in a respectful and collaborative process.

I would like to acknowledge Councilmember Stewart Chen for spearheading the community discussion approach, Councilmember Lena Tam for her unwatered support of the community discussion process and to Mayor Marie Gilmore who recognized the complexity of the issues involved, the fear that tenants might have in coming forward in a task force environment and acknowledged that the residents most impacted by rental issues wanted this community discussion to take place before initiating the task force.

Unlike the task force model, the community discussion method allows for direct participation by the affected parties in identifying the problem and developing solutions. Also, the community discussion will yield faster recommendations. The task force was given six months to do its work. The community group will report back to the City Council with recommendations in December.

The community discussion model that was approved consists of identifying and organizing the people that are directly and significantly impacted by rental housing issues (known as stakeholders), clearly describing the issues, becoming informed about the facts, offering solutions to the issues, and working collaboratively to develop and present solutions that all the stakeholders agree on.

The stakeholders in this community discussion are tenants and housing providers. Additionally, there are a number of advisory stakeholders who would provide information that could be useful to the stakeholders in evaluating the many possible solutions that will be proposed. At this time, ECHO Housing has agreed to participate, and there are invitations out to several other organizations.

For this project, the stakeholders representing tenants have generally been grouped into the following resident categories: seniors; disabled persons; low-income and section 8 residents; families with children in Alameda schools; English as a Second Language residents; moderate-income tenants that presently can afford to pay rent but have anxiety about future rent increases; tenants that rent from model landlords (best practices); and tenants that have experienced questionable practices.

The stakeholder categories for housing providers include: owner-occupied rental units; owners of single-family homes, townhouses, and condos; two- to four-unit properties; owners of Victorian conversions; small unit (six to 15 units) properties; mid-size housing providers owning buildings with 16 to 99 units; and large housing providers operating complexes with 100 or more units. All of these multiunit designations pertain to a single property.

While a number of tenants and housing providers have offered to participate in the public meetings, a significant number of tenants and landlords have expressed their apprehension and in some cases fear of being involved at all. Tenants are fearful of retaliation from landlords, and housing providers have privacy concerns. Consequently, I am looking into securing an at-large stakeholder for tenants and housing providers to read these anonymous and confidential communications.

As for next steps, three public meetings are now in the planning stages. The Introduction and Tenant Focus meeting will be held in late October. The state of the Alameda Rental Housing Market and Housing Provider Focus meeting is scheduled for early November, and the Solutions and Recommendations meeting in mid-November. Announcements will be published in the local newspapers and electronic media.

Tenant and housing provider stakeholder groups are looking for more representatives who can assist in suggesting solutions and evaluating the impact of those solutions on the various stakeholders.

Interested persons can contact me for more information on how they can participate. Also, if tenants and housing providers have experiences they think would be beneficial to share, they can contact me at 510-865-7369 or submit their written description to or P.O. Box 1343, Alameda, CA 94501. Any contribution can be anonymous, confidential or made part of the public record. Specific names of apartment complexes, resident managers, property owners or individual tenants will not be disclosed in any manner.

Jeff Cambra is the facilitator for the rental housing community discussion project.


Bay Area Rents at Record High – 10/17/14

This article by Pete Carey originally appeared in the Oakland Tribune. 

Bay Area landlords have boosted rents to historic highs in the past year in a booming economy that has crowds of renters scrambling to find a place to live.

According to a third-quarter report Wednesday from RealFacts of Novato, Bay Area apartment rents have jumped 11.4 percent from last year to an average of $2,234 a month. That’s the highest it’s been in records going back two decades, a company spokesman said.

A studio apartment costs an average of $1,931 a month, up 12.5 percent, and a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment rents for $2,562 a month, a 9.8 percent jump over a year ago.

Renters such as Ellen Casa are escaping to the perimeters of the Bay Area, where rents are lower.

Casa, a single mom, had to leave her $2,400-a-month two-bedroom townhouse in North San Jose when her roommates moved out. She’s staying with a friend in Livermore.

With her job in Milpitas and son in school in San Jose, she’s spending a lot of time in her car.

“Traffic is really bad on 680,” she said. “But I have no choice.”

Casa said she has many friends who have moved to Texas and Arizona “because they can’t afford it here.”

Nancy Molina moved to Tracy last year from San Jose due to rising rent. She said she and her husband thought about moving back after they each got pay raises, but by then rents had skyrocketed. “Even for a studio, it’s horrible. I looked and looked and looked.”

The couple cut their expenses $1,600 a month by moving to Tracy she said.

Some renters are thinking about taking a second, or third job to continue living in the costly Bay Area.

Danielle Rosales, a receptionist who works two jobs to afford the rent on her Fremont apartment, said she is facing a $335-a-month increase. “I don’t know where I will have time for a third job,” she said.

Rising rents have “actually made buying look more affordable” than renting, according to economist Jed Kolko of online real estate site Trulia.

The cost of buying a home is 23 percent less than renting in San Jose and 25 percent less in San Francisco, Kolko reported on the Trulia Trends blog. Trulia’s Rent vs. Buy report compares the total cost of owning and renting based on comparisons of available homes. The analysis takes into account not just rent and the monthly mortgage payment, but also closing costs, insurance, maintenance, taxes, and other costs.

Even those who can afford it are having trouble finding a place to rent.

Despite new apartment construction, occupancy rates have held “rock steady” at more than 95 percent, which is considered fully occupied. “It’s obviously meeting demand, it’s not oversupplying the market,” said Nick Grotjahn of RealFacts.

The average occupancy rate was more than 96 percent in the 1,269 apartment complexes with 232,685 units covered by RealFacts. The company reports on complexes with 50 or more units.

“Veronyca Alexander said she’s been looking in Oakland since June. Rents in that city average $2,498 a month, a 17.6 percent increase from last year. Her plan: move to Georgia in a few weeks and find a more affordable place in Atlanta.

Here’s a breakdown of average apartment rents by county:

Santa Clara County: $2,369 a month, up 10.7 percent. Occupancy rate 95.8 percent.

San Mateo: $2,580 a month, up 10.7 percent over the year. Occupancy 94.3 percent.

Alameda County: $1,994 a month, up 11.6 percent. Occupancy rate 97.3 percent

Contra Costa County: $1,659 a month, up 8.8 percent. Occupancy rate 96.8 percent

San Francisco: $3,400 a month, up 9.8 percent. Occupancy rate 95.1 percent

According to state Employment Development Department data, the average apartment rent would gobble up as much as half of the pre-tax wages of many workers in occupations such as dental and medical assistant, customer service workers, librarian assistant and office clerk, and almost all the income of some food preparation workers.

“All of us who work in health services and stuff who don’t make over $70 grand a year are being pushed out of the Bay Area or being left with no place to live,” said Jennifer Gaeta of Campbell.

Gaeta, who runs a dental office in Sunnyvale, said she had to move in with her boyfriend’s parents. “It’s a huge ego blow. I’m 35 years old, make $45,000 to $50,000 a year at a job I’ve had for 15 years and I can’t afford a one-bedroom apartment.”

Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him on

what it costs to rent in the bay area A report from RealFacts on Bay Area apartment rents for the third quarter gives this breakdown of average rents for the nine-county region. Gains are from the third quarter of 2013.
Average rent: $2,234, up 11.4 percent
Studio: $1,931, up 12.5 percent
1 bed, 1 bath: $2,017, up 11.8 percent
2 bed, 1 bath: $2,006, up 11 percent
2 bed, 2 bath: $2,562, up 9.8 percent
3 bed, 2 bath: $3,022, up 13.5 percent
Source: RealFacts

A history lesson: Tenants V. Alameda, Rasheed El Shabazz

If you are looking to gain a better understanding of the history of affordable housing in Alameda, this is for you. This historical report on the history of affordable housing in Alameda was put together by UC Berkeley graduate, Alamedan, and esteemed scholar Rasheed El Shabazz.

In 1987, African American tenants of the Buena Vista Apartments in Alameda, California, sued the City of Alameda for discriminatory housing policies. The lawsuit occurred after the owner of the largest subsidized housing complex in the East Bay decided to convert the property to market rate rents. The plans to double and even triple rents would displace hundreds of families.

After pleading with City government and the owner, Section 8 vouchers were acquired for many residents–all but 325. These ‘lost’ affordable housing units led to the lawsuit challenging Measure A, a 1973 citizen-enacted ordinance that banned construction of apartments. After a judge ruled Alameda’s land use policies discriminated against the poor, the City settled to protect its treasured exclusionary zoning policy. Part of the settlement called for replacement of the lost 325 affordable housing units.

I conducted primary research on the Guyton case in 2011 for a political science course on the American Legal System my first semester at Cal. This year, two years later, I presented my research at the UC Berkeley Legal Studies Conference.

Rasheed El Shabazz, “Tenants vs. Alameda: How Long Income Tenants Challenged Discriminatory Housing Policies in Alameda, California,” <> May 2011.

More of his research on Alameda can be found here.


The City of Alameda finally passed a Housing Element in July 2012, an action that changed the city’s course after an almost 40-year ban on the building of multi-family housing. A splendid and hard-fought victory, it was the first certified housing element for Alameda since 1990. Renewed Hope Housing Advocates, with support from East Bay Housing Organizations and Buena Vista United Methodist Church, and legal counsel from Public Advocates and the Public Interest Law Project, worked with a very dedicated city planner, Andrew Thomas, to find sites throughout the City of Alameda, but excluding Alameda Point, that could be developed within the expiring 2007-2014 element period. To meet Alameda’s RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers for low-income housing, we developed a new Multi-Family Overlay Zone for a number of the sites where a developer could ask for a density of 30 units per acre with the state density bonus, or 48 units per acre, if willing to build at least 50 percent affordable housing. The latter provision is designed to facilitate housing for low-income people built by affordable housing developers.
The multi-family zone is a real breakthrough for Alameda where there has been a lot of hostility toward affordable housing over the years. Measure A was passed in 1973, ostensibly to preserve Alameda’s Victorian housing stock, and forbids anything more than duplexes from being built. It has been strongly defended by many people in town and viewed as racially tinged by activists. Renewed Hope began in 1999 with the battle to save old Navy housing near Alameda College for rehabbed affordable units, went on to sue the city successfully for 25 percent affordable housing at Alameda Point and then pushed for this next goal, a housing element.

Passage of the element is a good sign that Alameda’s climate will be much more receptive to affordable housing in the future. City Manager John Russo pledged to have the next housing element done on time! The next step is to work on the Alameda Point plan to ensure the 25 percent affordable housing mandate at the Point is an integral piece of the city’s plans to develop the former navy base. We are looking for a Concord NWS-type coalition and welcome regional input.

Rent Stabilization in Alameda

Renewed Hope has begun an effort to bring rent stabilization to Alameda in view of high rent increases and the threat it poses to moderate income renters all over the city. A rent survey has been completed and we are trying to distribute it to as many renters as possible.

Take the survey online at

To obtain printed copies of the survey to distribute, contact Laura Thomas at or call 522-8901.

if you are interested in working on this issue, please come to our next meeting: 7 p.m. June 24, Buena Vista United Methodist Church, 2311 Buena Vista Ave., Alameda.