Seniors score rent reprieve

Photo by Kyle Szymanski

Residents of Oakley’s Summer Creek Place have gotten a reprieve from a series of rent increases. The management has agreed to suspend rate hikes until at least September 2020.

Residents of Oakley’s Summer Creek Place low-income senior apartments, who recently took to the streets to protest rent increases, can breathe a sigh of relief — at least for now. Facility management recently decided to suspend rent hikes until at least September 2020.

Infinity Management & Investments LLC, the company Summer Creek Associates employs to manage the property, submitted a copy of a letter sent to the residents after being asked to comment for this story.

“We appreciate the concern and frustration that many of you have expressed over the recent increases to rents here at Summer Creek Place,” the letter read. “At this time, we have decided to forgo the increase that was scheduled for February 1, 2020 and keep your current rental rate where it is.”

For months, the tenants — many in their 70s, 80s and 90s, and disabled — had protested a series of rent hikes that upped the monthly one-bedroom rent by about $200, to $970, and two-bedroom rents by about $350, to $1,095. Those monthly rates will now be frozen until late next year.

Facility management had previously said rents could eventually rise to as high as $1,003 for one-bedroom, and $1,195 for two-bedroom spaces.

“I am relieved and excited — for now — for my neighbors and myself,” said resident Diane Spurrier, 61, who spoke to this newspaper from a hospital bed this week, as she recovered from an illness. “I had needed to go get a part-time job to make ends meet, but I have been sick. I have not been able to do that.”

The facility is part of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, which requires tenant income and rent restrictions.

The facility’s monthly rent — dictated by the county’s average median income — can be as high as $1,302 for a studio apartment, $1,395 for a one-bedroom space and $1,674 for a two-bedroom establishment, Bill Ainsworth of the California State Treasurer’s Office, confirmed.

Infinity Management and Investments, in an earlier statement to The Press, said Summer Creek Place officials try to keep rents as affordable as possible, but that costs are rising. The group’s previous plan was to increase rent by $50 quarterly until they reached the maximum allowable amount. But residents, many on fixed incomes, argued that the hikes could force some onto the streets.

Several occupants had already moved out, some moving in with their children, and others to unknown destinations. Those who remained pleaded with facility representatives, spoke at city council meetings and sought help from several outside agencies, with no tangible changes materializing, until now.

Community activist Mike Dupray, who helped organize the group after resident Margaret Berry suggested they protest outside the facility, commended the group this week for their passion and effort, but noted the fight is far from over — sentiments also expressed by several residents.

“Of course, we at Summer Creek Place are pleased to know that our rent is stabilized until September 2020. At least we don’t have to go through the holidays worrying about the $193 a month rent increase as we did last year; that was horrible,” said resident Margaret Flaugher. “However, there are a number of issues still needing attention, and we plan to continue working on them. We are not going to sit back and be satisfied with things as they are.”

The residents take exception to the predetermined government formulas that base their monthly rent on what they feel is a high percentage of the county’s current median income of close to $100,000. They wonder how the facility is able to alter rents, seemingly at will, after residents receive annual lease addenda, and they question why apartment leadership isn’t more transparent, noting that the complex’s managers only recently revealed the former planned increases were to cover increased maintenance, insurance and utility costs.

“Most of us rely on the Social Security benefits assigned to us when we retired 10, 20, 30 years ago, when wages were minuscule, compared to today’s earnings,” Flaugher said. “Most of us are unable at our ages and medical conditions, to find a job to supplement our incomes.”

Delia Pedroza, a fair housing and tenant-landlord counselor for the Eden Council for Hope and Opportunity (ECHO Housing), confirmed the organization is working closely with the residents.

The organization previously assisted the seniors with a Cease and Desist and Reconsideration of a Rent Increase Notice in the wake of a prior increase that, for some residents, reached as high as $203, Pedroza said. Following that effort, the management company reduced the planned hike to $50, Pedroza said.

“Currently, ECHO Housing is working with Summer Creek tenants, along with other organizations,” she said. “We are also in close contact with a staff attorney with the National Housing Law Project and other housing groups, to hold developers and owners accountable and to ensure they are within compliance with housing programs.”

Dupray, meanwhile, is pushing for government leaders to mandate change, which includes changing the current median income formula he feels is skewed toward the western part of the county, where incomes are higher.

He also believes the county could form a special district to further subsidize fixed-income individuals dealing with seemingly continual rent increases.

“They should not be burdened with having to find a new place to live,” Dupray said of the Summer Creek residents, “or with having to move back into living with their children.””