The Legacy of Low-Income Tenants Suing Alameda

What would you do if your landlord was going to double your rent?

In 1987, Alameda tenants at the Buena Vista Apartments, then the largest private for-profit apartment complex in the East Bay, protested the conversion of their subsidized rental units to market rate housing. Residents negotiated with the owner to phase in the rental increases.

Less than half of low-income residents were later able to qualify for federal housing vouchers, but it was uncertain how long the vouchers would be honored. Other residents' incomes did not qualify for the Section 8 vouchers. Those 325 families were not poor enough to quality for Section 8, but were too poor (and not the right race) to find housing elsewhere in Alameda--especially as the city had defunded its Fair Housing Discrimination organization.

In 1989, two Alameda resident leaders, Clayton Guyton and Modessa Henderson, sued the City for discriminatory housing policies (Guyton v. Alameda), specifically a 1973 ordinance, Measure A, that restricted the development of multiple dwelling units on the island.

Tenants gained a court order in 1989 recognizing that the city's housing policies discriminated against poor residents and that the City failed to comply with its own Housing Element, as mandated by state law, and had not provided its regional share of affordable housing. The order also restricted the city's land-use authority, forcing Alameda homeowners to come to the court for planning permit approval.

In 1990, tenants and the city of Alameda reached a settlement agreement, known as the "Guyton Settlement." The agreement granted a 325 unit exception to Measure A to replace the affordable housing units lost by the conversion and creating an affordable housing development fund.

However, all of the 325 low-income housing units have not been replaced.