Five members of Richmond City Council in meeting. The mayor's seat in the center is temporarily unoccupied.

Richmond Asks Property Not to Raise Seniors’ Rent

Five members of Richmond City Council in meeting. The mayor's seat in the center is temporarily unoccupied.

Richmond City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the owners of the Heritage Park at Hilltop senior living community not to impose a planned rent increase. (Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / The CC Pulse)

By Samantha Kennedy

After residents of an affordable apartment community for seniors asked for help reducing a proposed rent increase, the Richmond City Council unanimously voted to send a letter asking the owners to not implement the increase.

Residents in the community of Heritage Park at Hilltop say the proposed 5% rent increase would put them at risk of being unable to afford other necessities and homelessness.

“We want the senior population at Heritage Park to be assured that their concerns are being taken seriously,” the letter, signed by Mayor Eduardo Martinez, says, “and that steps will be taken to not price out seniors who currently reside at Heritage Park.”

The rent increase, if it should go forward, would take effect Dec. 1.

The letter cites Contra Costa County’s 2023 Homeless Point in Time Count, which shows that West County had the largest increase in its unsheltered population between 2020 and 2023. Individuals 55 and older were the second largest age group represented in the count, and Richmond was identified as having the largest unsheltered population in the county.

>>>Read: Shelter from the Storm Not Enough for Homeless People

Many residents live on fixed incomes and would not be able to keep up with the proposed increase and future increases in addition to other necessities, including medical expenses they may already struggle to afford.

One Heritage Park resident, Elsa Stevens, said she previously canceled a CT scan after hearing the copay. Her husband convinced her to go through with it even if they “went into debt, you do what the doctor says.” The scan found hernias that she said would have caused her stomach to die.

In November 2022, voters in Richmond passed Measure P, which caps rent increases on rent controlled units by 3%. But this doesn’t apply to places like Heritage Park because the building is too new.

The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a state law, prohibits rent control over apartments that are built after Feb. 1, 1995. Heritage Park was built in 2000 and has a history of trying to implement large rent increases.

In 2018, Heritage Park residents were faced with a 12% rent increase that also raised concerns about homelessness and forgoing necessities. Richmond officials and organizers from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, helped reduce that increase to 3%. Richmond Rent Program officials said then that the large increase would have been “technically in compliance” because it is exempt from the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.

“We’re seeing a small piece of the problem with these vocal people who came in,” council member Doria Robinson said. “There’s a lot of people who are suffering in quiet.”

Robinson said it’s impossible to address every situation without having a systemic solution, which she believes begins by repealing Costa-Hawkins.

But doing so might not be easy.

California voters rejected Proposition 10 in 2018 and Proposition 21 in 2020 that would have increased rent control.

The issue will be on the ballot again in November 2024. The measure, known as the Justice for Renters Act, would repeal Costa-Hawkins if it passes.

AC Transit Seeks Feedback on System Realignment

AC Transit, which operates buses in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is looking to change its service after a “historic decline in riders” due to the pandemic, which reduced fare revenue like never before.

Bus lines serving Richmond, including the 71, 72R and 74, would reduce frequency or coverage area or in the case of 72R, could be discontinued if certain service scenarios are implemented.

Riders and community members can give feedback on the three proposed service scenarios on this online form.

The next Richmond City Council meeting is Dec. 5.

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