ANTIOCH — With the last remaining statewide COVID eviction protections expiring next week, dozens of tenants rallied Wednesday demanding protection from skyrocketing rents, landlord harassment and poor living conditions.
Waving signs saying “Housing is a human right” and “Rent is too damn high,” residents complained about apartments infested with cockroaches and mold, sewers flooding their bathrooms, and hundreds of dollars in unexpected rent increases.
Many of the complaints concerned Delta Pines, a low-income residential complex in Antioch with almost 200 apartments. But the problems are spreading throughout Antioch and the entire Bay Area, tenants’ rights organizers say. A survey of 1,000 Antioch renters released this month found that respondents spend an average of 63% of their income on rent, making it difficult to pay for food, medicine, child care and other expenses.
And the situation may worsen on June 30, when the measures of state protection against eviction due to COVID will end. These measures have already expired locally in many Bay Area cities, leaving tenants to grapple with the threat of impending evictions as they grapple with inflation, sky-high gas prices, gentrification and high interest rates that make the prospect of homeownership elusive. for many.
Many families that moved to this East Bay city were forced out of San Francisco and the South Bay on the price.
“It used to be very cheap here. People weren’t paying as much rent as they are now,” said Devin Williams, a public figure for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. “I’m worried. People will have to live in two-room apartments with two different families and work two jobs. It’s really scary.”
Hoping to stop a new wave of homelessness as COVID has devastated the economy, government officials have taken a series of measures to curb the right of landlords to evict tenants and provide funds to pay rent to struggling tenants. Landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants who have applied for this assistance and have a pending application, but this protection ends at the end of the month. And these funds slowly materialized. Earlier this month, at least 16,000 applications from the Bay Area were still pending.
“After the 30th, we don’t know what will happen,” Williams said. “There could be a tsunami of evictions.”
Meanwhile, some Bay Area cities are introducing or considering new rules to protect tenants at the local level. Last week, Concord City Council passed an ordinance barring landlords from harassing tenants. The Antioch City Council in January directed its city staff to develop proposed ordinances that would impose rent controls, prohibit harassment of landlords, and prohibit evictions that do not comply with certain rules. Tenants on Wednesday urged council to act quickly to pass these ordinances, which have yet to be voted on.
In an interview after the rally, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe said he recognizes the importance of housing stability, but “it’s a tough job and we want to make sure we get it right the first time.”
Advocates say these protections could help renters like Della Curry, 58, who works as a food delivery driver for Meals on Wheels. She was one of nearly three dozen people who were forced to leave their homes after the Delta Pines fire in March. After the fire, the landlord moved her and her fiancé from the two-bedroom apartment they shared with three other family members to a one-bedroom apartment and raised her rent, Curry said. According to her, there are cockroaches in the new apartment and mold in the bathroom.
“It was a very stressful period,” she said.
Delta Pines is owned by a limited partnership associated with Levy Affiliated Holding, a Santa Monica-based company that owns more than two dozen properties across the United States. Levy Affiliated sent questions to Delta Pines, who did not return the call.
Low-income apartments like Delta Pines are exempt from some non-pandemic state laws that restrict evictions and rent increases, and there are no state laws that specifically prohibit landlords from harassing tenants. Thorpe said that until local protection measures are in place, the best recourse for Antioch residents is to contact law enforcement about habitability issues. At least one Delta Pines resident has done so, Williams said, but the call has not resulted in massive changes to the community.
The people of Delta Pines are not the only ones struggling. A survey conducted by First 5 Contra Costa, an Eastern District regional group and other community organizations, found that 79% of Antioch tenants reported they were worried about a rent increase, and 68% were unsure they would be able to pay their current rent. More than half of the tenants were concerned about the possibility of eviction, and 36% reported problems with habitability. They complained about illegal activities and thefts in their homes, broken heating and air conditioning systems, plumbing problems, pests, mold and broken appliances. Only 6% reported their concerns to the city, and some were too concerned about eviction to report concerns to their landlord.
Rochelle Pierre, who shares a one-bedroom apartment with her 9-year-old son in Antioch, said her rent has jumped from $1,500 to $1,800 during the pandemic, a 20% increase. Now Pierre, who works two jobs as a consultant to make ends meet, spends more than 60% of her income on rent.
“I have a master’s degree in social work,” she said, “and I still can’t afford this rent and feel safe in my apartment.”