As I remember from my childhood Musical Chairs is a game where kids circle around a group of seats while a song is played. When the music stops, the players scramble to occupy the available chairs. Those who cannot find a place to sit are eliminated from the competition.
A similar pass time has been found locally in the Bay Area and throughout all of California. It’s called Affordable Housing for families of limited means. In this case musical chairs is a cruel game where those who lose don’t have a place to live.
In a deregulated rental market Adam Smith’s law of supply and demand prevails. Those who have the monetary resources come out on top when lease agreements are negotiated. Such an economic model in the lower income Monument Corridor is working to perfection. The only problem is that long term residents of the area have become FOB sidewalk because they have been unable to have enough income to pay skyrocketing rents.
A good example of this is the Gonzalez family. They have lived in a two bedroom apartment on Virginia Way for almost 9 years. Maria works as a maid at the Hilton while her husband is an employee of a roofing company. Their three children aged 6 to 11 attend local schools.
When they first moved to the area it cost $ 975.00 to rent their apartment. Until a year ago, they only had to pay only $150.00 more. In 2015 they received a $225.00 increase. Six months later $ 350.00 was added on. Three months ago the real estate agency who manages the property tacked on another three bills to make the place they call home run $ 2000.00 per month
The Lopez family found themselves between a rock and a hard spot. They could opt to work extra jobs to make up the difference which is impossible because they were already moon lighting. There are simply not enough hours left in the day to do another shift
To make ends meet sharing a dwelling with another family would not be practical because of all the children involved. If nothing can be worked out there would be no choice but to move to an area in the Central Valley where housing would be more affordable.
Meanwhile seven miles away in Walnut Creek a different situation was unfolding affecting the same apartment house of Virginia Lane. Tom and Sally concluded with the arrival of their new son, the one bedroom unit they were renting would no longer be large enough to accompany their growing family.
The pair decided to move into a 2 bedroom configuration that better suited them. The problem was that the $ 1,950.00 per month they were paying would cost at least $700.00 more if such a space could be located close by. Lacking the funds to do this, Tom and Sally determined it would be better to move to nearby Concord where they could rent an extra bedroom for the baby at a similar amount than what they were paying in Walnut Creek.
The third couple who came into the Virginia Lane equation had been living in a fashionable part of Emeryville. With a household income of $116,000 per year, they could well afford to pay $ 3,780.00 per month to house themselves on the 9th story of a building that featured a partially obstructed view of San Francisco Bay.
Unfortunately for Frank and Tina, he lost his job as a mortgage broker when the firm he was working for moved to Austin Texas. After being jobless for five months, they could not make ends meet on the $51,350.00 Tina made being a speech therapist in Alameda. As a result the couple decided it was best for them and their four year old son to move on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel to Virginia Lane where lodging could be procured for a more affordable $ 2,000.00 per month.
Having more prospective renters than they had space to offer, the real estate management company who were operated the 24 unit building on Virginia Way, found themselves in the cat birds seat. They could bring in fresh blood that would not complain about how much they were paying (and get a commission for handling the transaction) or deal with the Lopez Family who was struggling to pay rent each month.
With their backs to the wall the Lopez clan was not ready to depart Concord without a fight. At Queen of All Saints church, Maria went to confer with her parish priest to see if anything could be done to help them. For the Father, this was not the first tale of woe he has recently listened to. Many of other members of the parish have come to him with similar problems. This is one case where praying and uttering several Hail Mary’s won’t work.
Eventually the plight of the Lopez family and others like it has reached the upper echelons of the local Catholic community. Their respected spiritual leader Father Mangini of St. Bonaventure has been a leading advocate of affordable housing to assist not only their parishioners, but all those who lack the resources to live in the area
Recently Mangini’s church hall hosted the “Raise the Roof” Conference in June where over 150 concerned individuals came together to see what they could do to ease the affordable housing crunch in the Monument but also other places in the region as well.
At this conference everyone present expressed hope that rent increases could be checked by government action and that it had to be a major priority to build more affordable housing where it is needed.
Edwardo Torres organizer for the San Francisco based non-profit Tenants Together had a strong presence at this event. While the Concord City Council has been basically ignoring the pleas of families in the Monument to halt their rent increases, his organization has been taking up the cause of helping these people.
Refusing to pay increases until improvements are made and promoting rent control are the immediate solutions they offered. Thus far a great deal of interest has been created by Tenants Together. Three months ago, more residents attended their work shop at JFK University than a City Council meeting that was going on at the same time.
Tenants Together, an organization with close ties to the Occupy Wall Street movement, feels the suburbs are a good place for them to organize low income folks against local government they feel ignores the needs of the people.
Also very much in evidence at the Raise the Roof Conference were local labor unions that paid for day care, breakfast, and lunch for the Saturday conference. After listening to testimonials of those adversely affected by rent hikes, Margaret Hanlan-Gradie from the Contra Costa Central Labor Council advocated:
- Affordable Housing be constructed utilizing union labor whose income would allow them to live near where they work
- Increase minimum wages to at least $15.00 per hour so that families can remain in the community
- Encourage the local and state government to subsidize the construction of affordable housing
- Institute rent control if necessary to protect the interests of long time local residents
While staying out of the political spectrum representatives of the Catholic Church have endorsed building low income housing in the region. They were greatly responsible for getting Lennar-Urban to pledge $ 40,000,000 to build at least 25% of housing at the new Concord Naval Weapons Station project to serve those of moderate and low incomes.
Taking in the proceedings could be found Concord City Manager Valarie Barone, Mayor Laura Hoffmeister along with City Council members Tim Grayson and Ron Leone ; all of whom were observing Raising the Roof in the back of the hall. This group, which failed for four months to cobble a majority among them to authorize their Housing Committee to look into recent rent increases in the Monument, had finally woken up that a crisis was at hand
The real life game being played of Rental Housing Musical Chairs had finally resonated with the powers that be of Concord.
Next week- What can local government do to ease the affordable housing crunch?