Albany Thrives Together
…is the name for our group that has been active in Albany for over ten years, first as the Diverse Housing Working Group. We are an all-volunteer community-based effort to engage, educate and involve local organizations and individuals in the effort to create additional diverse housing resources in Albany. We recognize that a strong community includes people from all walks of life and income levels.
AlbanyTT Gets Golden Shovels!
Members of our group started advocating for a low income housing project with our friends from SAHA (Satellite Affordable Housing Associates) 20 years ago. Last month we were honored to get a photo op with golden shovels at the groundbreaking for a 62-unit low and very-low income project in Albany at the corner of Cleveland and Solano! Much thanks to SAHA, the city staff, and the council that approved transferring the site and providing some of the funding. We look forward to the Grand Opening in 2024.
August 26, 2022: The President of APRA (Albany Property Rights Advocates) sent a letter to the Mayor and Council Members. The first sentence of that letter states:
“On July 25, 2022 APRA reminded Council that APRA is the only Albany group that advocates for the rights of property owners in Albany, stakeholders who provide housing services to about one-half of Albany’s population.”
The fourth paragraph of the that letter contains this sentence:
“It is up to the City to affirmatively inform tenants and rental providers of the existence of the program and to educate them on the simplicity and friendliness of the Rent Review Program.”
In fact, the Rent Review Ordinance in Albany states that it is the landlord’s responsibility to notify the tenant in writing whenever any rent increase is given.
There are 4000 renter households in Albany and only 17 cases have gone to Rent Review over a five-year period.
Of those 17 cases that went to Rnt Review non-binding mediation over a 5-year period, none, had what the City called “successful conciliation”. Worse yet, 6 cases cited race, 7 cases cited disability and 2 cases cited religion.
The last time the City did any education around the Rent Review Program was January, 2019 and all three workshops were heavily attended by landlords, but no tenants.
To date, no City Council member or city employee has acknowledged that the landlords have been breaking the law, nor is there any mention of this important information about the Rent Review Program in the Housing Element. The City’s answer is to “evaluate the program”. Page 6-40,41 states that “housing providers have also been required to inform tenants of the availability of the rent review procedure.” The City should have gone on to explain, that per the landlords’ own words, the landlords have not been following the law. A full text of the August 22, 2022 letter from APRA to the City Council is attached at the end of this document.
AlbanyTT: Our Role
Albany is a small city. Renters in Albany are afraid to speak out. That is the major reason there has been little public comment from the renters. We, at Albany Thrives Together, are speaking for them.
Anti-Displacement Proposals I
Non-displacement: CATEGORY 4: Displacement Prevention Strategies That Contribute to AFFH (Page 6-65)
NONE OF THE SIX PROGRAMS LISTED WILL ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING TO HELP WITH NON-DISPLACEMENT OR TO FURTHER AFFH
PROGRAM 1D: Housing Rehab Program—The only commitment here is to “work with the Alameda County Housing and Community Development Department in the implementation of neighborhood preservation and sustainability programs” with ‘the objective of assisting at least 20 Albany households by 2031.” How will the City get the word out? How will the lucky 20 families be chosen? Will the City come up with some fair system to choose those 20 families? The money comes from a grant from the County. Can’t the City attempt to get additional funds to help more than 20 Albany households over 8 years?
Anti-Displacement Proposals II
PROGRAM 5C: Rent Review Improvements—The City states that the City does mediation of landlord-tenant disputes in a manner intended to help tenants retain their housing. The Rent Review Program is a total failure. With over 4000 renter households in Albany only 17 cases went to a non-binding mediation hearing over a period of 5 years. Worse yet, NO cases came to what the City calls a “successful conciliation”. (PAGE A-6) Over a 5-year period no tenants
were helped to “retain their housing”. The City action plan for this item is to “evaluate” the program. They will just be evaluating a broken program. Assisting no tenants over 5 years to retain housing does not provide non -displacement or Affirmatively Further Fair Housing.
PROGRAM 5D: Tenant Protection Measures—For this item the City has said it “will complete an evaluation of the existing program, including data on the number of cases and their outcomes.” (Page 6-45) The City knows exactly how many cases (17) over what period of time (5 years) and that none of those 17 cases resulted in “successful mediation”. (Page A-6) Worse yet, 6 of the cases cited race, 7 reported disability and 2 cases reported religion as a cause, (Page A-5) all protected categories or should have been protected.
Tenant Opportunity To Purchase (TOPA)
The City states “recognize home ownership as an important opportunity to build generational wealth and financial security, as well as personal investment in the community.” (Page 6-13). “Reducing displacement also is about creating opportunities for Albany renters to become Albany homeowners.” (Page A-57). These are necessary goals for the City that could be very partially met with a TOPA type program. The programs the City has suggested, “create alternative ownership models and increase the supply of moderately priced condominiums”, do not exist and there is no realistic plan to create them. A TOPA type program may be the ONLY way a low-income person could afford to buy in Albany. This is a program the City should make some absolute commitments with a definitive timeline. Right now, the Housing Element states the “City could consider a similar program to could explore participation in Berkeley’s program.” We are aware that Berkeley has no program right now so the City of Albany needs to, at the minimum, look into what grants are available to start such a program and then what steps they can take to make it happen.
We recognize that TOPA would be a very small program, but the only pathway we see for low-income Albany households to be able to purchase homes here.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
We believe that for the City of Albany not to admit the failure of the Rent Review Program (Zero tenants had a “successful conciliation) and to never acknowledge the illegal behavior of the landlords who put in writing in an August, 2022 letter to the City they were not following the requirements of notice in the Ordinance constitutes a violation of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. In the description of the program, it would have been accurate to state that actually no tenants had a “successful conciliation” over the life of the former Housing Element.
According to the Housing Element, 2000 Albany families are at risk of displacement, most of them our families of color. 70% of black households, 50% of Hispanic households and 45% of Asian households are at risk of displacement.
“Relative to the County, Albany has a slightly lower rate of homeownership. Moreover, the ownership rate has declined over time.” (Page a-37)
“The racial gap is larger in Albany than it is at the countywide level”. (Page A-37)
“Share of severely cost-burdened very low-income renters is above the county median.” “Rents have been increasing at faster rate than county median” “Every tract in the City has 20 to 40 percent of all households experiencing one of the four listed severe housing problems.” (Page A-44)
The City did meet with us, Albany Thrives Together, but to date, has made no effort at all to reach out to renters directly. Although it has been more than 5 months since the landlords put in writing they are not following the rent review program, the City has done nothing to reach out to tenants. On the City’s website for the Rent Review Ordinance, the City lists the last community workshop was January 12, 2019.
Albany Thrives Together recently did outreach to tenants in Albany. The three major takeaways are 1. The tenants have no knowledge of the very weak rent review program, 2. Tenants are afraid to speak out in any way against their landlord, and 3. There are numerous code violations such as with mold and lead paint which tenants are either afraid to tell the landlord, or have informed the landlord and have been threatened with a large rent increase or eviction if they take the complaints to the City.
Concern of Albany Citizens
Our concern is that the City Council will never give tenants any protections unless the State forces them. Our City Council has five members. One member is a landlord and has excluded himself from all votes and discussion of tenant protections. One member is a real estate agent and has publicly stated she does not want any kind of restrictions, and a second member has been extremely hostile to any tenant protections. The two other members have not public taken pro or anti tenant positions, but have supported tenant protections in votes. So, we believe, without State input, the Council will never be able to vote for tenant protections.
At the last public hearing (February 21,2023) on the Housing Element a city council member asked “I ‘m aware that tenant use of ECHO housing resources is relatively low. Is there any indication around how that’s so and how could that be further increased in future years so tenants are aware of what their protected rights are?” The Community Development Director responded, “I can take that, I think they’re busy.” He then went on to say that ECHO is very busy and blamed ECHO not answering the phone or emails for the reason the numbers are so low. The Community Development Director later stated he either misheard the question or made a mistake. To date, no one with any power in the City has acknowledged the truth about the Rent Review Program. Our fear is that it will never happen and tenants will continue to be left without any protections in Albany.
Entire APRA Letter
Albany City Council
1000 San Pablo Avenue
Albany, CA 94706
Re: Draft Housing Element — 30 day comment period
Dear Honorable Mayor and Council Members,
On July 25, 2022 APRA reminded Council that APRA is the only Albany group that advocates for the rights of property owners in Albany, stakeholders who provide housing services to about one-half of Albany’s population. A grave injustice was done when APRA was not called to the table to discuss rent control, TOPA, just cause and other tenant goals as set forth in the Draft Housing Element (Element). The result was an Element that is highly tenant biased and hostile to housing providers.
Albany needs to provide 1,114 new housing units by 2031. These units will be built by private developers, not by the City. The housing goals should provide incentives to attract these developers. The present (Element) Program 5 creates a hostile rental environment and discourages housing development,
APRA suggests the Element be modified in the following manner to make it friendlier to developers and to the development of new housing.
“i . Program 5.C: Rent Review. Add the following after the first sentence in Paragraph 4. “Feedback from housing providers indicates that the present rent mediation ordinance is adequate, though barely used. Rent control as exists in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco is not needed oc wanted in Albany. Since the State of California already has rent control in place (AB 1482), no additional rent control measures are needed or justified in Albany.” Review the present rent mediation program to make it more efficient and cost effective and to increase both tenant and housing provider awareness and participation in the program. The argument that tenants are intimidated by the process is specious at best. It is up to the City to affirmatively inform tenants and rental providers of the existence of the program and to educate them on the simplicity and friendliness of the Rent Review Program.
- Program 5. D: Tenant Protection. Delete the following because these goals are already state law:
- “Additional rent stabilization measures, including a limit on annual rent increases” (included in AB 1482).
- “A Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance…”. (AB 1482)
- “A Non„Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Ordinance….” (Various Federal and State Statutes, such as the Ca. Unruh Act, and the Cae Fair Employment and Housing Act).
- ‘Relocation assistance to tenants who are evicted without cause”. California law (AB1482) already addresses this. City regulations are unnecessary and would be duplicitous. Placing goals in the Element that are already in State Law makes the Council look uninformed and careless.
- Delete “Access to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction” and insert “Encourage legal aide organizations to provide equal legal aide to tenants and rental providers.”
- Delete in its entirety “Provisions to avoid discrimination against tenants who have a prior eviction in their history.” Housing Providers need the right to consider the eviction history of tenant applicants. There are bad tenants out there who do not pay rent and move from apartment to apartment without paying rent. These bad actors need to be identified.
- Add the following to Program 5 D. “With funds from a new parcel tax or from the City General Fund, create a fund for rental assistance for low income renters and for down payment assistance to promote home ownership.”
- Program 5. E: TOPA. Everyone who cares about Albany should be against TOPA. It should not be a goal in Albany. Program 5.E should be eliminated in its entirety. The issues with TOPA are as follows:
- TOPA uses the underprivileged as a front to grant government the power to dictate how properties are sold, to whom they can be sold, and for how much they can be sold. Not exactly, but sort of like eminent domain, just with a different name.
- TOPA can delay transaction times up to a year or more, with potentially devastating results for both buyers and sellers.
- TOPA devalues properties and harms equity.
- TOPA reduces the housing stock which will drive up rents and harm renters.
- TOPA prevents a property from going on the free market for sale until renters waive their rights in writing. It will create lengthy, unpredictable time periods which can delay a sale with potentially disastrous results for both prospective buyers and sellers.
- TOPA gives special interest developers first right of refusal on properties and can prevent sale to family or friends.
- TOPA takes away the ability of owners to leave, or will, their own homes to relatives.
- TOPA is extremely convoluted, bureaucratic and expensive to administer.
- After 40 years of experience with TOPA Washington D.C is defunding it in favor of effective housing programs such as rental assistance for iow income renters, down payrnent assistance to promote home ownership, and shelters to help homeless residents. j. TOPA is a blatant attempt to seize private propeffcy through a coercive set of regulations.
It has been argued that the Element is merely a framework for developing policy for the next 8 years, and that it does not make changes to current policies. Rather it is designed to encourage evaluation of potential programs. We are reminded of the parable about the camel’s nose being in the tent-once it is there it is almost impossible to keep the camel out. The mere fact that these Programs are present in the Eiement means that there will be continued, unrelenting pressure to include them, even if they are proven to be unnecessary and harmful to the public interest.
Thank you for considering the above thoughts and suggested modifications to the Draft Housing Element. We look forward to working closely with the City Council in the coming years. It is our belief that together we could develop a truly meaningful Element beneficial to all.
Peter Campbei% President,
APRA (Albany Property Rights Advocates)