ANTIOCH — With the state’s last remaining COVID-eviction protections set to expire next week, dozens of renters rallied Wednesday demanding protection against steep rent hikes, landlord harassment and poor living conditions.
Waving signs that read “Housing is a human right” and “The rent is too damn high,” residents complained of roach and mold-infested apartments, sewage flooding their bathrooms and out-of-the-blue rent hikes of hundreds of dollars.
Many of the complaints centered on Delta Pines — a low-income apartment complex in Antioch with nearly 200 units. But the issues extend 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, on average, 63% of their income on rent — making it difficult to pay for food, medicine, childcare and other expenses.
And the situation could get worse come June 30 when the state’s COVID-eviction protections end. Those measures already have expired on a local level in many Bay Area cities, leaving renters grappling with the threat of looming evictions as they struggle with inflation, sky-high gas prices, gentrification and high interest rates that put the prospect of homeownership out of reach for many.
Many of the families who moved to this East Bay city were priced out of San Francisco and the South Bay.
“It used to be really affordable out here. People weren’t paying as much for rent as they are now,” said Devin Williams, a community organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. “I’m worried. People are going to have to live in two-bedroom apartments with two different families and work two jobs. It’s really scary.”
Hoping to stem a new tide of homelessness as COVID decimated the economy, state officials put in place a series of measures limiting landlords’ power to evict tenants and providing funds to pay rent for struggling tenants. Landlords are prohibited from evicting renters who have applied for that relief and have a pending application — but that protection ends at the end of the month. And those funds have been slow to materialize. Earlier this month, at least 16,000 Bay Area applications still were pending.
“After the 30th, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Williams said. “There might be a tsunami of evictions.”
In the meantime, some Bay Area cities are implementing or considering new rules to protect tenants at the local level. Concord City Council last week passed an ordinance making it illegal for landlords to harass tenants. The Antioch City Council in January directed its city staff to draft proposed ordinances that would impose rent control, prohibit landlord harassment and bar evictions that don’t meet certain guidelines. Tenants on Wednesday urged the council to act quickly to pass those ordinances, which have yet to be scheduled for a vote.
In an interview after the rally, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe said he recognizes the importance of housing stability, but “this is complicated work, and we want to make sure we do it right the first time.”
Advocates say those protections could help tenants such as 58-year-old Della Currie, who works delivering food for Meals on Wheels. She was one of nearly three-dozen people who were displaced when a fire tore through Delta Pines in March. After the fire, the landlord moved her and her fiancé from the two-bedroom apartment they shared with three other family members into a one-bedroom — and raised her rent, Currie said. The new apartment has roaches and mold in the bathroom, she said.
“It has been very stressful,” she said.
Delta Pines is owned by a limited partnership connected with Levy Affiliated Holding — a Santa Monica-based company that owns more than two-dozen properties throughout the U.S. Levy Affiliated directed questions to Delta Pines, which did not return a call.
Low-income apartments like Delta Pines are exempt from certain non-pandemic statewide laws that limit evictions and rent hikes, and there are no statewide laws that specifically ban landlords from harassing tenants. Until local protections are passed, Thorpe said Antioch residents’ best recourse is to contact code enforcement over habitability issues. At least one Delta Pines resident has done that, Williams said, but the call didn’t lead to widespread change at the apartment complex.
Delta Pines residents aren’t the only ones struggling. A survey by First 5 Contra Costa, the East County Regional Group and other community organizations found that 79% of Antioch renters reported feeling worried about rent increases, and 68% were unsure they could pay their current rent. More than half of renters were concerned about the possibility of being evicted, and 36% reported habitability issues. They complained of illegal activity and theft in their buildings, broken heating and air-conditioning units, plumbing issues, pests and mold and broken appliances. Just 6% had reported their concerns to the city, and some were too worried about getting evicted to report the issues to their landlord.
Rocheall Pierre, who shares a one-bedroom apartment with her 9-year-old son in Antioch, said her rent jumped from $1,500 to $1,800 during the pandemic — a 20% increase. Now Pierre, who works two jobs as a counselor to make ends meet, is spending more than 60% of her income on rent.
“I have a master’s in social work,” she said, “and I still can’t afford these rents and feel secure in my housing.”
Contributed by local news sources