Sudden switch to market rates strains lower-income tenants - July 14, 1988

Sudden switch to market rates strains lower-income tenants

By C.J. Clemmons (The Tribune)
July 14, 1988

ALAMEDA – The Bradford family has grown in its six years at Bridgeport Apartments. There’s Tony, Angie, 7-year-old Shareshee and two year old Anthony II.

But something else is growing.

In 1982, their two-bedroom apartment rented for $185. Next year, the rent will reach $600 –– an increase of 224 percent.

“This is getting to be enough for a house payment,” says Angie Bradford, 28, a production controller at the Naval Aviation Depot who earns $23,800 a year.
If it wasn’t for her job, she says, “I don’t know where we would be” with the current rent of $510.

“Next year,” she says, “it will be even worse.”

* * *

Alameda’s efforts to help tenants at their Bridgeport Apartments have resulted in a third of them – 210 in all – receiving Section 8 rent vouchers.

Officials hoped that the federal rent subsidies would ease the strain of the large low-income housing project’s conversion to private, market-rate units.

It is an experiment: Bridgeport is one of the first of a wave of such conversions that housing officials predict will sweep the country as developers pay off the government-backed loans that built the projects.

The Bradfords think the rent voucher program is a good idea.

Trouble is, like most tenants at Bridgeport, they don’t qualify.

Angie’s salary puts them about $130 over the yearly income limit – too rich to get help and too poor to pay the rising rents.

Tony Bradford, 27, was laid off from his job as a maintenance worker at the East Bay Municipal Utility District in January.

He will receive $102 a week in unemployment compensation over the next few months to add to Angie’s bimonthly take-home pay of about $600.

It isn’t enough.

“We’ve had to sacrifice our car, clothes, everything to pay this rent,” Tony says.
Another rent hike may be impossible, the Bradfords say, but they don’t know where else to go.

* * *

Other Bridgeport tenants also are feeling the financial strain.

They have moved in with their parents, doubled up with other families, taken second jobs or even filed for bankruptcy.

Those who can’t afford to move are complaining that maintenance problems at the massive complex – including bad plumbing, shaky balconies, leaking toilets and roaches in some apartments – do not make the units worth the high rents.

“After paying the last rent increase, we only had $150 to last until my next paycheck,” Angie says. “Our grocery bill for two weeks is usually $150.”

They get by. He looks for a decent job. She borrows from friends.

“I guess it’s lucky that we have friends.”

Tony calls the unemployment payments “bad money,” because it counts towards their yearly income total, putting them even farther over the income limit for the vouchers.

The next rent increase, in January, will wipe out the $3.50-an-hour baby-sitting fund, he says, and “keep me totally in the house.”

No more job hunting.

* * *

Tony Bradford says the family options “are getting slimmer and slimmer.”

They are on the waiting list at an apartment complex near the Alameda Naval Air Station, but there is a two-year wait.

They are also seeking a political solution, becoming active in a rent control drive conducted by the Buena Vista Community Association.

The group has collected nearly 3,000 signatures since beginning the campaign in April.
They have until September to collect 400 more signatures to put an initiative on the ballot in the regular spring election set for March.

“After working a full eight-hour day, I come home and type letters for the rent control drive,” Angie Bradford says.

“We’re all pitching in and working together. Something has got to be done.”

Source: Clemmons, C.J., "Sudden switch to market rates strains lower-income tenants." Oakland Tribune. 14 July, 1988:A13.