Potential rent hikes drove a passionate group of seniors out of their Oakley apartments Tuesday to demand change.
Around 20 protesters, mostly from the Summer Creek Place low-income senior apartments, walked up and down Empire Avenue, holding signs while peacefully calling out to passing vehicles and anyone within earshot.
“If they increase the rent, we’d have to move, and there is no place to move to,” said resident Diane Spurrier, who added that she’d be forced to live in her car, where she once lived for two years.
The crowd decried the prospect of further rent jumps in the face of gradual increases totaling $200 (to $970 a month) for one-bedroom units and around $300 increases (to $1,095) for two-bedroom spaces in 2018 and 2019 — driving out an estimated 10% of residents at the 80-unit complex last fall, residents said.
Facility management froze additional increases late last year amid tenant outrage, but a letter sent to residents at the time indicated that rent prices would be reassessed in September.
The facility is part of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, which features resident income and rent limits.
The monthly rent — dictated by the area median income of the county — can be as high as $1,046 for a one-bedroom apartment, and $1,255 for a two-bedroom space.
Infinity Management & Investments LLC, the company employed by Summer Creek Associates to manage the property, provided The Press with a copy of the letter that was sent to residents last year.
It reads, “We want you to know that our goal was certainly not to create challenges for any of our residents, but simply to try and keep up with the increasing costs of utilities, property maintenance and insurance.”
“As always, we appreciate resident feedback and encourage all residents to continue the active dialogue by communicating with our site manager and personnel at Infinity Management,” said Nathan Titus, a representative of Infinity Management & Investments.
Residents who lined the sidewalk on Tuesday said their message is clear: rent is already too high.
A protest leader who wished to remain anonymous said the majority of remaining tenants are retired, blue-collar seniors relying on minimal Social Security benefits that hover around $1,000 a month.
“The struggle to pay the higher rent, utilities, food and medical expenses is unbelievable, resulting in drastic health issues among us — with anxiety, stress and depression rapidly on the increase,” she said.
A host of other seniors expressed similar sentiments.
“My income is $5 off of my rent,” said resident Margaret Garcia. “My kids are helping me, or I wouldn’t be here. They would probably evict me.”
Belinda Stevenson questioned how residents earning around $900 a month can afford rent larger than that.
“You can’t do it,” she said. “There has to be some kind of control.”
The beleaguered group has joined forces with other Oakley and Antioch residents facing similar challenges. They’ve sought the help of local, regional and state leaders and are currently receiving some help from the Eden Council for Hope & Opportunity and Oakley activist Mike Dupray. But widespread change is happening slowly.
Dupray said the overarching issue is the low-income seniors’ costs are rising faster than their income.
He said a recent Social Security cost of living increase was 1.6%, but the consumer price index, which measures changes in consumer prices, rose 1.7%, and Medicare costs also increased 7%.
“Our seniors need raises to meet the cost of living increases, and that is not happening,” he said.
For now, residents say all they can do is continue to push their issue in hopes of change.
“We need help, and nobody is giving us any,” said resident Hester Frazier. “We are trying.”