Buena Vista complex rents to double - September 4, 1987

Buena Vista complex rents to double

By Rachel Gordon (Alameda Times Star)
September 4, 1987

ALAMEDA – The owner of the Buena Vista Park Apartments – the largest subsidized housing project in the city – said Thursday it plans to double rents at the complex but vowed to keep as many of the low-income residents at the complex as possible.

“We intend to do whatever is most humane,” said Linda Shepard, Bay Area representative of the Beverly Hills-based Gersten Management Co., which owns the 615-unit West End development. “The object is not to run people out of Alameda.”

The owner is trying to secure the federal rent subsidy Section 8 and voucher programs for the project’s low-income tenants, according to Shepard. Both programs are currently full in Alameda and city housing officials said the wait to get into those programs is approximately two years. Forty-two percent, or 250 households at Buena Vista would be eligible for the federal subsidy programs, according to Housing Authority documents.

Shepard said the owner has been working with federal housing officials in Washington, D.C., to get additional Section 8 certificates and rent vouchers for Alameda, but has not had a firm commitment from them. She added, however, that Gersten was successful in obtaining those subsidies for 66 low-income tenants in its 174-unit projet in Vallejo, which is undergoing a conversion that mirrors the one planned for Alameda.
Clayton Guyton, who chairs the Buena Vista tenants group, said the owner has made no attempt to contact the residents about its intentions. When told of the owner’s plan,

Guyton said it provided some hope that the low-income tenants would be allowed to stay at the complex. However, he said, he wants more assurances.

Shepard’s statements were the first comments from the owner since the Times-Star reported Wednesday that the owner had notified the federal government that it was going to pay off its federally subsidized mortgage on the property and free itself from regulated rents.

When the development was built between 1964 and 1966, construction was financed with a 40-year direct federal loan. In return, the owner was obligated to rent only to qualified low- and moderate-income residents for the first 20 years, or until the nearly $9 million mortgage was paid off. Mortgages are coming due or being paid off nearly all over the country, pulling thousands of apartments for low-income tenants off the market.

Residents of the Buena Vista complex have been prodding the city to come to their aid. The City Council will hold a special meeting at 7:30 tonight in the City Hall council chamber, Oak Street and Santa Clara Avenue, to hear concerns about the rent hike. Mayor Chuck Corica also has scheduled a private meeting for Tuesday with the owner of the complex.

City officials said Wednesday at a community meeting held at the complex that they would consider a number of options, including imposing rent control on the project, instituting a sliding rent scale, and buying the project with tax-exempt bonds to put it under the control of the Alameda Housing Authority.

But residents said the city has not been responsive to their needs up to this point. They accused some city officials of withholding information regarding the conversion of the complex.

Councilmember Joe Camicia met with Shepard, an old political associate, three weeks ago and was told then that Gersten was considering the conversion. Camicia said Sherpard had told him that Gersten was willing to pay $500 to tenants who feel they must move because of the new rents and that rents would be boosted to near market rate.

Camicia gave the information to Assistant City Manager Rob Wonder, who then relayed it to Tom Matthews, executive director of the Housing Authority, the agency which oversees subsidized housing in the city. Other council members and the tenants were apprised of the situation.

“They’ve put the residents at a real unfair disadvantage,” said Guyton, of the tenants’ group. “We’re lost a lot of time where we could have been negotiating with the owner and considering our legal options before the fact.”

Councilmember Barbara Thomas said she, too, is incensed that the information – outlined in an inter-office memo between Wonder and Matthews and given to Camicia – was not widely distributed.

Wonder said Thursday that it was a mistake not to give the information to all the council members and that he will not let it happen again. He said the inter-office documents were placed inadvertently in an inactive file after Camicia requested the information and then forgotten.

“That cost the tenants some options,” said Thomas. “That time could have been very valuable to them.”

Camicia said distributing the information immediately would have been premature.

“I had a 15-minute meeting (with Shepard) and wasn’t given any concrete information. She only told me that they (the owner) were exploring their options,” said Camicia. “I simply went to Rob (Wonder) and asked him what the city could do.

“It’s not a question of hiding information,” he said, “it’s a question of doing things in a business-like manner. I thought it would be good to get some information before the issue became politicized and the owners would be scared to the point where they’d starting playing hardball.”

Shepard said it will not be determined when the rent hike will be implemented until agreements with the federal department of Housing and Urban Development are formalized.

Source: Gordon, Rachel, “Buena Vista complex rents to double.” Alameda Times Star. 4 September, 1987:1.