About 200 protesters organized outside Redwood City City Hall, calling for rent stabilization and eviction policies to relieve residents of an eviction epidemic. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Redwood City affordable housing proponents plead for rent stabilization

Housing rights activist group San Francisco Organizing Project – Peninsula Interfaith Action (SFOP-PIA) recently demonstrated outside City Hall in Redwood City, urging the City Council to introduce rent stabilization and just-cause eviction policies to slow what some have described as an eviction epidemic.

Those requests are not likely to be met, but the council did move forward Monday on several measures addressing the region’s housing crisis.

Among the roughly 200 demonstrators was Father Ulysses D’Aquila, who said many of his parishioners at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel have been affected by rent hikes.

He noted Redwood City’s lack of tenant protections makes those families especially vulnerable. “I began to hear months ago about rents being doubled, and I thought, ‘Oh this has to be illegal,’” D’Aquila said. “When I found out it wasn’t, I was shocked.”

Rocio Rodriguez said she received a 60-day eviction notice Sept. 1, with her landlord claiming his brother needed to move into her apartment, where the rent has been $1,900 per month. Rodriguez said similar apartments in Redwood City are priced from $2,800 to $3,600, which she can’t afford.

Addressing the City Council, Rev. Anna B. Lange-Soto said rent hikes have been so extreme, some families from her church, El Buen Pastor, Iglesia Episcopal, have been forced to move as far away as Merced.

Demonstrator Tom Linebarger angrily criticized the council, claiming none of the incumbents or candidates support rent control.

Four of Redwood City’s seven council seats are up for grabs in November’s general election, with six candidates (three being incumbents) vying for the positions.

Some protesters addressed the council through an interpreter, and the demonstration itself was held almost entirely in Spanish.

The U.S. Census in 2010 determined almost 39 percent of Redwood City residents were Latino. SFOP-PIA organizer Adriana Guzman acknowledged the housing crisis is impacting Latinos hard enough to change the city’s demographics.

“The majority of displaced people are Latinos, but this is affecting every single person, even nurses, even teachers,” Guzman said.

Confronted with the possibility that no council member would support rent control, and that landlord and Realtor lobbyists are fighting to prevent tenant protections from being enacted anywhere in San Mateo County, Guzman expressed faith in Redwood City’s elected officials.

“The City Council is gonna listen,” Guzman said, “It’s not just the low-income families, it’s not just the Latinos — it’s going to get worse and worse.”

Despite objections from some construction industry representatives, the council moved forward with a proposal to fund affordable housing by charging developers housing impact fees up to $25 per square foot. Mayor Jeffrey Gee said he hopes a second reading and final vote on the ordinance will occur in November.

Also approved by the council, and due for a second reading and final vote, are zoning changes designed to make it easier for homeowners to add in-law units and allow currently illegal in-laws to “come in from the cold” and be brought up to code.

The council also authorized city staff to negotiate with Airbnb to collect the city’s 12 percent hotel tax from Airbnb hosts, and Gee noted the Airbnb revenues will be used exclusively for affordable housing, and not mingled with the city’s general fund.

In a special study session prior to the meeting, the council discussed plans for a 100 percent affordable housing project to be developed on city-owned parcels at 707 and 777 Bradford Street. Gee said the number of individual housing units that would be included has not yet been decided.

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