Buena Vista rent ceiling may topple - September 2, 1987

Buena Vista rent ceiling may topple
City could lose largest low-income complex

By Rachel Gordon (Alameda Times Star)
September 2, 1987

ALAMEDA – The owner of the Buena Vista Park apartments has filed documents with the federal government indicating its intention to pay off its mortgage early and free itself from a cap on rents at the city’s largest subsidized complex.

“With the paperwork that has been filed, it appears that the mortgage has been paid off (Tuesday), or it will be in the next couple of days,” said Dirk Murphy, a spokesman for the regional Housing and Urban Development office in San Francisco.

As soon as the mortgage is paid off, the owner, Los Angeles-based Gersten Management Company, can raise rents as much as it wants at the 615-unit West End apartment complex. There is no rent control in Alameda.

Representatives from the Gersten Management Company would not comment Tuesday on the reported action.

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 early all over the country, pulling thousands of apartments for loce income tenants off the market.

“This is bad news,” said Clayton Guyton, a tenant at Buena Vista and chairperson of the Buena Vista Community Association, the tenants’ group. “We’re going to be pushed out of these apartments and out of Alameda. The rents are the lowest in the city and when the rents are increased, we won’t have anywhere else to go. A lot of us are just making it on the rents we’re paying now.”

Tom Matthews, executive director of the Alameda Housing Authority, which oversees subsidized housing programs in the city, agreed with Guyton’s grim prediction.

“Legally, there isn’t anything we can do,” Matthews said. “Whatever can be done is going to be at the option of the owner. It’s frustrating.”

Monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment at the complex is $270 – about half the cost of a comparable apartment in Alameda renting at market rate.

Matthews estimated that 40 percent of the tenants at Buena Vista Park are low-income residents and would be eligible for other federal housing assistance, such as the Section 8 and voucher programs, if they were available. But, he said, the programs are already full.

“The wait to get into those programs is probably two years long,” he said, “unless they’re evicted and put out on the street, then they’re put at the top of the waiting list,” which is approximately 850 names long.

Even then, however, finding housing in Alameda that qualifies for the federal programs is difficult,” Matthews said.

City officials said Tuesday they will attent to negotiate with the owner on behalf of the tenants.

“We’ll ask them to keep the rents down and to phase the increase in over a long period of time,” said Assistant City Manager Rob Wonder, who feared that an immediate and substantial rent increase would flood the market with people looking for cheap rents in Alameda.

“The city just isn’t prepared to absorb this,” Wonder said.

Mayor Chuck Corica agreed.

“It would really be a heck of a blow to price these people out,” Corica said, “The city has to somehow try and convince (the owner) to go easy on the rent increase.”

Source: Gordon, Rachel, “Buena Vista rent ceiling may topple.” Alameda Times Star. 2 September, 1987:1.