Alameda tenants fight liberal owner - September 9, 1987

Alameda tenants fight liberal owner

By Carolyn Newbergh (Oakland Tribune)
September 9, 1987

ALAMEDA – The owner of a large, low-income apartment complex threatened with 75 percent rent hikes is a major supporter of such liberal Democrats as former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart and until recently, Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy.

Albert Gersten, who Beverly Hills real estate firm owns the 615-unit Buena Vista Park apartments, has just become chairman of the Los Angeles television Bill Press’ exploratory campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1988, jumping the McCarthy ship after contributing about $10,000 to it.

It is Gersten’s liberal ties that tenants of the largest low-income, private apartment complex in the Eastbay are banking on in an unusual housing fight to hold down rents.

Tenant leader Clayton Guyton said residents will try to appeal to the Beverly Hills businessman personally to come up with a “progressive” solution – that might include rent control – in what is expected to become a growing nationwide low-income housing crisis.

“He is a person working with the Democratic Party,” Guyton said yesterday. “He understands, I believe, the needs of the people.”

“…We’re asking for (him to be) an example for the whole nation right now. The nation is experiencing this problem.”
Neither Gersten nor any of his representatives were available for comment yesterday.

The Gersten Co. is one of the first operators of low-income apartments in the country to take advantage of a provision in their 40-year, low-interest government mortgages allowing for an early payoff after 20 years and freedom from federal regulation of rents.

Government and housing officials around the country have estimated as many as 500,000 low-income apartment units could be eligible for conversion to market rents in the near future.

After a meeting with Alameda Mayor Chuck Corica and Guyton yesterday, Gersten Co. President Marty Collier said his firm has paid off its mortgate and plans to increase rents 75 percent on Nov. 1.

The increase would mean, for example, that the rent on a two-bedroom apartment at the Buena Vista would go from $271 a month to $474.

Guyton said such a drastic hike would throw many tenants into the street.

However, Collier and Corica plan a trip to Washington on Sept. 21 aimed at getting federal rent subsidies for the complex to assist the most needy among the tenants.
“We’re trying to be a compassionate as we can,” Collier said.

But Guyton said he would propose a more unusual approach to Gersten.

Guyton will ask Gersten Co. for phased in rent control and a commitment to allow tenant organizing and an “upward mobility program” in which residents would get schooling and learn trades at the complex so they can get better jobs and ultimately, be able to afford to move out.

Guyton said he learned yesterday that Gersten had been a big supporter of McCarthy’s U.S. Senate bid before defecting to Press, who is seen by some as more liberal than McCarthy.

A Monday column in the Los Angeles Hearld-Examiner said Gersten had previously contributed $10,000 to McCarthy before joining the campaign of Press, a commentator with KABC-TV in Los Angeles.

Political insiders verified yesterday that Gersten is recognized as a wealthy Democratic supporter and fund-raiser.

“The perception among Democratic candidates in the country is that the streets of West L.A. are paved with gold bricks,” McCarty senate campaign Darry Sragow said. “It is folks like Al Gersten who are looked at for national support.”

State Democratic Party Chairman described Gersten as a “very successful fundraiser” for such politicians as state Controller Gray Davis, Board of Equalization member Conway Collis and presidential contender Hart.

Another party worker in Los Angeles said, “Gersten was very visible in the Hart campaign.”

Source: Newbergh, Carolyn, "Alameda tenants fight liberal owner." Oakland Tribune. 9 September 1987:A1.