Residents of the low-income apartment complex Palm Gardens in Fullerton were recently given notice of a rent increase of 8.5%, which is scheduled to take effect June 1, the date that the City’s eviction moratorium is scheduled to end.
The residents responded with a letter to their landlord asking that the rent increase be postponed for 6-12 months because many are not working due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter, which is supported by Habitat for Humanity OC, St. Joseph’s Community Partnership Fund, and Orange County Congregation Community Organization reads (in part):
“Now more than ever, amidst this global pandemic, affordable housing is vital for our families’ health and well-being. While rent increases are a normal and viable process, we are suffering with financial instability and shifted circumstances that leave us unable to pay our current rent, even less so an additional increase. As we continue to prioritize safety and precaution during these times, we ask that you consider postponing this rent increase for six to twelve months from the original date of June 1, 2020 until we can return to our jobs and daily lives post pandemic.
“Numerous tenants of the Palm Gardens apartment complex are experiencing financial hardship and emotional distress because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our situation has become more strenuous after learning about the pending June rent increase. Many of us have lost our jobs, work fewer hours, or lack enough resources to get food for our children. As long-term residents, we have roots in this city, and are strongly invested in this neighborhood, and this apartment complex. We call this place home and wish to remain here. That is why we, the Tenants of the Palm Gardens apartment complex, urge you to stand with your tenants who are financially impacted as a result of COVID-19 and reconsider your decision to increase rent at this time.
“The additional time will allow us to recover some financial stability. Please take this critical step to bring us needed relief, as doing so will safeguard many from the brink of homelessness.”
Some community groups and individuals, including Habitat for Humanity OC, sent letters and comments to Fullerton City Council urging them to intercede on behalf of these renters. “At Habitat for Humanity of Orange County we have seen the difference stable housing makes in the lives of a family,” wrote Sharon Ellis, CEO of Habitat for Humanity OC. “Today we urge members of the city council to stand with Fullerton families currently impacted financially as a result of COVID- 19. Please consider taking action to ask the landlord of Palms Garden Apartments to postpone their proposed rent increase due to take in effect in June 2020. Now more than ever, having a stable place to call home is important.”
The Woodcrest Association, a neighborhood-based non-profit, also sent a letter to the city council, which was signed by 130 residents, urging the council to “take immediate action to postpone this rent increase for at least 90 days” and “to send a letter and speak with the landlord, in order to postpone the rent increase in this complex. Doing so will safeguard many from the brink of homelessness.”
“We write today urging you to stand with low-income families in the city of Fullerton who are currently financially impacted as a result of COVID- 19,” the letter states. “We are asking the City to take action to protect the most vulnerable residents in our city. It has been brought to our attention on April 28, that your residents of the Palm Garden Apartments, over 250 tenants, have received a rent increase notice of 8. 5% from their landlord that will take effect on June 1. During these challenging times, residents have shared that this notice makes them feel less valued as consumers, and in dire need of direction from their city. While children and families are already managing social and emotional challenges, a rent increase notice only makes life more stressful in not being able to provide for their children and families.”
Mireya Figueroa, who lives at Palm Gardens, said that she and her husband are working right now—they are considered “essential workers”—but that she is concerned about her neighbors who are not working due to the pandemic.
“I think about my family and my neighbors because I know there are a lot of neighbors who have stopped working, and I’m worried about them because they have families and kids,” Figueroa said. “My neighbors, a husband and wife, are not working so this rent increase will not be good for them. It’s not a good idea right now because we are in this situation with COVID-19.”
In response, at the May 19 Fullerton City Council meeting, Councilmember Jesus Silva asked that Council bring back an item for June 2 to extend the eviction moratorium for another month, and to enact a rent freeze for 60 days.
“These are people who have not been able to work, who are not likely to work from home, and they’re already under a lot of duress,” Silva said. “I’d like to see us bring back something for our next meeting (June 2) and have it be retroactive, so we can avoid possible evictions.”
He pointed out that evictions usually do not just impact one person, but entire families.
“It’s just unfair what this investment firm who owns the Palm Gardens is doing to the residents,” Silva said. “These people are under enough stress already.”
These motions (to extend the eviction moratorium and rent freeze) were seconded by Councilmember Ahmad Zahra.
“I want to echo my extreme frustration and, honestly, disgust with what is happening at Palm Gardens,” Zahra said. We have so many landlords who have been so gracious throughout this crisis, and then you have one who decided that the timing of a rent increase would coincide with the end of our moratorium, which is June 1, at a complex that is entirely low-income, in fact the lowest income part of our city. I know there are a lot of legal loopholes that allow this type of behavior, but I know that there are ways that this landlord could be working with his residents, or at least the Council. We’ve reached out several times to no avail. I find it shameful that we have those who are not willing to work with us during this crisis, and be part of the collaborative that is the city of Fullerton. I’m happy to stand with councilmember Silva and our residents to see what we can do to, hopefully, get a resolution. All they are asking for is an extension of their rent increase for at least another 30 days so they can get back on their feet, get back to their jobs, and get at least a paycheck before they start paying increases.”
Palm Gardens is owned by Palm Garden Apts Ltd Partnership and Bertram Partners (whose owner is listed as Kenneth B. Black). The complex is managed by iAsset Management, with headquarters in Irvine, whose partners include Jerry McLane and Kenneth B. Black.
According to an Observer article from 1997 (the story begins on pg. 1 and continues on pg. 16), when Bertram Partners purchased the affordable housing complex in 1997, they received tax credits to renovate the complex, but were able to remove some affordability requirements and other regulations aimed at protecting renters, such as such as property maintenance inspections of interior and exteriors, ability to replace a property manager for “gross mismanagement,” and [bedroom] occupancy restrictions.
Though Council was at that time divided on the issue, the agreement was approved 3-2.
In that article, then-Mayor Chris Norby decried the Bertram Partners proposal as “a scheme to make a lot of money by raising rents, without social benefits of any kind. It’s part of the Yuppy trend.”
Categories: Local News