Many residents of Rancho La Paz mobile home park joined a larger protest in front of Anaheim City Hall on June 18 to ask for rent stabilization and a more sound housing policy. That night, Council ultimately voted down a temporary rent hike moratorium proposed by councilmember Jose F. Moreno.
“At the same time that this council majority is voting against residents…they are allowing extreme rent increases across the city and plan to give Anaheim Stadium to the billionaire Arte Moreno,” said Jeanine Robbins, a founding member of Housing is a Human Right-OC. “We’re fighting to house people experiencing homelessness, and the number one way to fight homelessness is to not let people become homeless in the first place—and these rent increases will make Anaheim residents homeless.”
Back in February, the new owner of Rancho La Paz Mobile Home Park (which is in both Anaheim and Fullerton), raised rents between 40-70%, which will potentially force hundreds of seniors to move without anywhere to go.
“Mayor Sidhu gives a billionaire free rent [Angel Stadium] and lets Anaheim renters gets pushed into homelessness,” said Rancho La Paz mobile home park homeowners association president Lupe Ramirez, part of a group of tenants confronting steep rent increases. “A lot of us live on Social Security—you want us to pay four or five hundred dollars more a month in rent? We moved there to retire and live in peace.”
“I live in Rancho La Paz. My family’s lived there for over 37 years. I moved in there, thinking this is going to be my last place where I’m gonna live,” resident Lonny Markyna said. “I thought—what a wonderful place to retire. And now, all of a sudden, that retirement has been taken over by an owner named John Saunders. He is hell bent on getting everybody out of that park by means of raising the rents to where we’re never going to be able to afford it.”
Back in April, Anaheim city council voted down a rent stabilization ordinance for mobile home parks, despite the pleas of Rancho La Paz residents. The residents have formed a Homeowners Association and are attempting to negotiate with the park’s new owner John Saunders. Unfortunately, these negotiations have stalled.
“Since I’ve been on the negotiating team, I found out the fellow has more nefarious plans for the park,” Rancho resident Mike Martin said. “He basically wants to raise our rates as much as 200-300% and if he doesn’t get what he wants, he will convert it to a family park, and then he can raise the rents even higher.”
Since negotiations have stalled, Saunders has taken away about 90 percent of the guest parking area and closed off the pool indefinitely. Meanwhile, he’s making it difficult for folks who want to sell there homes by stalling the process, which is depressing property values.
Mobile home parks are unique in that residents own their homes, but pay rent on the land on which they sit.
“We’ve had houses fall out of escrow, and people are at risk of losing their homes over this. For those who are trying to sell, we have people who are selling their houses 40-50% below market value because they just want to get out. So it’s actually depressing the property values of those who want to get out. So it’s making it a difficult situation all around. We’ve got our backs against the wall, and we’re fighting for our lives here,” Martin said.
“Our homes are being held hostage by this man who says, ‘We know you’ve got no place else to go, so you’ll pay what I want,’” said Ramirez. “We’re retirees, a lot of us are disabled, a lot of us just live on social security, and we’re supposed to pay $400 more in rent because this predator/buyer has told us, in his exact words, ‘the value of this land is in turning it into industrial property.’ So his plan is to get the seniors out of there.”
Hundreds of the protesters packed into the Anaheim City Council chambers as the meeting began. The council meeting lasted over 10 hours, with over 100 members of the public speaking.
Representatives of various lobbying groups (like the Building Industry Association and the California Apartment Association) spoke against any kind of “rent control.”
Joining the Rancho La Paz residents were residents of an apartment complex called Casa Grande, who recently received notification that their rents were increasing from 40-50%, which amounted to approximately $700 more a month, and were given two months’ notice of the increase. The residents stated that the increases would impact their financial stability and well-being, and requested assistance in resolving their concerns.
According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately 55% of all housing units in Anaheim are renter-occupied, and the median gross rent in Anaheim in 2017 was $1,578. In addition, 16% of Anaheim residents have incomes below the poverty level and approximately 60% of Anaheim renters are “overpaying households,” i.e., households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs.
According to the staff report, “As a result of increased housing costs, allowing owners of apartment units to impose unrestricted rent increases could displace a large number of elderly, fixed-income, or low and moderate income Anaheim residents.”
Council member Moreno made a motion to approve a temporary (six month) rent gouging moratorium. It would allow rents to increase no more than 5% plus the consumer price index, with a max of 10%.
“We heard from residents over and over that they are seeking relief,” Moreno said. “As properties transfer ownership, the new ownership resets the rents at market rate, and so we have to figure out what we’re going to do as a city in the long term. So that’s why it’s a temporary moratorium to allow us the time to breathe with our residents, to figure out the best, more permanent solutions.”
Moreno explained that rents are being driven up, in part, because of the thousands of new luxury apartments that are being built. He showed a graph indicating steadily escalating rents in Anaheim in recent years.
“We’ve been investing in trying to figure out how to resolve homelessness—this is the next wave if we don’t do something…The United Way study on homelessness found that 3 out of 4 people who are in a condition of homelessness are folks who are homeless because they could not afford rents,” Moreno said.
Denise Barnes, the only other council member to support the rent spike moratorium, said, “When a landlord raises rents in an irresponsible manner, the city is duty-bound to act. As an elected official, I represent the residents and their welfare is my highest concern. The residents in this community should not have to live in fear of homelessness or have to give up food or needed medication just to pay rent.”
“The economic success of Anaheim’s tourist industry fuels a need for tens of thousands of dedicated workers to staff our hotels and theme parks, to make the beds, cook the food, and greet the guests. When the stability of these workers is threatened, when they are forced to endure overcrowded conditions, when good health must take a back seat to paying the rent, when putting away for retirement is just a dream, we must, in good faith, act—not just for the welfare of those individuals, but for our city as a whole,” Barnes said.
She said her husband was part of the last Point in Time homeless count in Orange County, and he found people living in their cars with children.
“Are you kidding me? In this country that is so blessed? I don’t think so. This is just a basic necessity to survive. God help us,” Barnes said.
Councilmember Trevor O’Neil, who voted against the measure, said, “Everybody knows I oppose rent control, and it’s not because the Apartment Association contributed to my campaign. They contributed to my campaign because they know that I am a staunch opponent of rent control.”
O’Neil showed slides indicating that the average new rent prices at Casa Grande are only about $100 more than other units in that area, and that the new Casa Grande rental rates are below the average for all of Anaheim. He also showed projections that rent hikes will be declining over the next several years.
“I don’t see there’s a projected need to cap this by government action when the market is going to take care of itself,” O’Neil said.
“I appreciate your numbers,” Barnes replied, “Could you please show me what salary you have to make in order to live there?”
O’Neil did not have those numbers.
Councilmember Lucille Kring, who also voted against the measure, said that the new owners ought to be able to get a return on their investment, and that the rents had previously been below market value.
“If rent control goes in, the owners are not going to have any money to fix roofs, put paint on, and so you’re going to end up with apartments looking terrible, and some of them may even become slums,” Kring said, “Rent control is absolutely not the right way to go.”
Moreno replied, “We’re talking about a $600-$700 increase. If any of us can afford our rent or our mortgage to go up 50, 60, 70 percent, in a matter of two months, my goodness, I think we would all be begging someone to help us. All I’m suggesting here is for us to get out of our ideological rigidity. It’s a 6-month moratorium so that we can truly deliberate on this topic…I think there are some things we can learn from other cities who have done this.”
Moreno also pointed out that the average rents indicated by O’Neill are being inflated by the high volume of construction of “above moderate” rental units, and the stagnation of affordable unit construction.
“There are 4,500 children in our school system who are categorized as McKinny-Vento, a federal designation of homelessness or housing insecurity,” Moreno said.
Councilmember Jordan Brandman, who also opposed the measure, said that he is philosophically opposed to any kind of rent control, and that solutions to this should come from the state, not the city of Anaheim.
Mayor Harry Sidhu gave no comment except to say, “I will not be supporting this item.”
As Sidhu called for the vote, Moreno said, “In the interest of our ethos ‘residents first’—we didn’t have one resident say, ‘Do not do this.’ They came and begged us to do this. So if we’re going to be responsible to our residents, we have to get out of our philosophical rigidity. The only folks who have come and said, ‘Don’t do this’ are paid lobbyists who are also trying to kill the statewide bills that some of you are depending on to save our city.”
“We’ve already had enough discussion on this,” Sidhu said, “Please vote, and I’ll be voting no.”
“I’m just curious for your solutions, colleagues,” Moreno said. “If you keep shooting down solutions to protect residents, who we say are our priority, what will you do with the residents who are displaced on July 3 from Casa Grande, or from Broadway Royale, or from Mayfair, or from Anna Dr? What is your solution, colleagues? Please let me know.”
Councilmember O’Neil said that the Ad Hoc Housing Committee has been meeting regularly, and has some ideas they’ll be bringing back to council in the next couple months, though he didn’t specify what those ideas are.
Councilmember Kring said that the city has been “doing a lot for housing affordable housing…We’re about to open the Section 8 housing waiting list for the first time in years.”
“Despite all of that, rents are still going up,” Moreno said, “We have 18,000 units that are going to come online soon; not one is an affordable housing unit. According to SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments), we have a need of 1400 low income units. We have permitted about 200. So we’re well below that, and we’ve doubled our need at the upper income housing.”
Regarding the Section 8 voucher program, Moreno said there are 15,000 households on the waitlist.
“If no other number motivates you, it should be this one. I beg you, in the interest of our residents, to please consider a temporary measure to protect our residents,” Moreno said, “We found $425,000 for the Chamber of Commerce, we extended our Angels lease deal with no consideration for market-based rent.”
Ultimately, the motion failed 2-5, with Barnes Moreno being the only “yes” votes.
The question of what to do regarding Rancho La Paz will be discussed at the July 2 Fullerton City Council meeting.
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