Valine: Low-income tenants stunned by rent increases

Posted by Kevin Valine on May 29, 2014 

They are grateful to have a roof over their heads and at a price they can afford.

But some low-income tenants living in housing provided by a Modesto nonprofit are confused, upset and anxious about a proposal to raise their rent or have them pay a monthly fee. The rent increase or fee could be as much as 10 percent of their net income.

“I don’t know where we would be without the program,” said one tenant, who asked that her name not be used. “We are totally grateful. But we are paying for their mistakes.” The woman said she and her family pay about $130 a month in rent and expect that to increase to about $220 with the program fee.

Community Impact Central Valley provides affordable housing and case management for poor, disabled and formerly homeless clients. CICV has about 160 units in duplexes, apartment buildings, single-family homes and other housing types. About 330 people live in CICV housing.

CICV officials say the rent increases and program fees are needed to keep the nonprofit agency on firm financial footing. The money would pay for such items as maintenance, pest control, landscaping and case management services. Officials say CICV has drawn down its reserves to pay for these items and no longer can afford to do that.

Officials say CICV’s finances also have been strained because of late reimbursements from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for case-management services CICV has provided clients. HUD says CICV submitted the reimbursement paperwork incorrectly, and the two agencies are working to resolve the issue.

The Bee spoke with about a dozen tenants living in three CICV apartment buildings and a single-family home this week. It’s not a large sampling of tenants, but their concerns include:

• CICV is imposing the rent increases and program fees June 1 and is not working with tenants who cannot afford the increase or fee. The average rent for a CICV tenant is about $250 a month.

• CICV has closed laundry rooms, stopped mowing lawns and is not maintaining its properties. The Bee visited about a half dozen apartments. Some looked as though they had been completely renovated; others were in much poorer condition. For instance, the living-room ceiling in one apartment had a 2-by-4-foot hole. The tenant said it was result of a water leak more than two months earlier.

• CICV is trying to live within its means by evicting tenants.

CICV grants administrator Aaron Farnon addressed each of these concerns. He said the rent increases or fees won’t take effect until July 1 at the earliest and should occur later. Though CICV had been considering imposing the rent increases and fees June 1, Farnon said that is no longer the case.

He said CICV wants to work with tenants to ensure they can afford the rent hike or fee, so it is encouraging tenants to meet with their case managers to review their finances. He said clients who don’t make these appointments face having their rent increased or a fee imposed as soon as July 1 and at the full amount.

Farnon said CICV has closed laundry rooms and curtailed landscaping and maintenance because of its finances but is tackling problems that pose health and safety risks. He said the rent hikes and fees will pay for more services, such as pest control. CICV will form a committee in July to determine how to spend the money from the increases and fees and wants tenants to serve on the committee.

“I feel it’s really important that the clients are part of the process,” he said. “From their perspective, they may feel nothing is being done. But having tenants on the committee (will enable them) to see what is going to be done.”

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