Many concerned city residents and their supporters packed the East Palo Alto City Hall on Tuesday, September 13, to protest a major rental housing sale that could affect hundreds of low-income individuals and families.
Fearing the pending sale by Wells Fargo of 1,700 of the city’s rental units to one company, Equity Residential, the group gathered to discuss the impact of the sale and what they could do to prevent it.
The concerned group discussed the fact that Equity Residential is owned by billionaire Sam Zell, who as the founder and chairman of the company, is known to both oppose rent control laws and to ignore some tenant protections in low-income communities.
Several members of the group said that Equity Residential has a history of Fair Housing Act violations nationally. Many housing activists` fear that Equity Residential is a well-funded company that might just finish the job Page Mill Properties, the former owner of the apartments began.
The evening’s speakers included former city mayor, Duane Bay, who is now the director of housing for San Mateo County, East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero, Father Lawrence Goode of Saint Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto, Jessica Tenant and East Palo Alto City Council member Ruben Abrica.
The program began with a slide show that was introduced by Anthony Clark, who is a member of Youth United for Community (YUCA), a student led grassroots activists organization in East Palo Alto. The slide presentation reminded everyone about Page Mill Properties, the last management firm that owned the apartment complexes.
It was pointed out that Page Mill used every tool in the book including lawsuits against the city in the company’s effort to get around rent stabilization ordinances. The former apartment owner also evicted or voluntarily vacated as many tenants as possible.
According to Victor Ramirez of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA), “approximately 400 families were lost during that time.” Matthew Fremont, who is a housing activist, explained how Page Mill Properties’ actions put affordable housing at risk and how their past actions show the danger of such a large holding falling into the hands of one entity.
It was explained how the owners of large rental complexes can change the nature of the city such that local residents can no longer afford to live in it, since they can demolish apartment complexes and replace them with others that can be converted to more profitable and expensive condominiums.
“Hopefully the bad economy will slow any development project they have in mind down a little,” said Robert Allen, an East Palo Alto resident who is a member of the East Palo Alto Planning Commission.
Local organizations like CLSEPA, YUCA, Peninsula Interfaith Action (PIA) and others encouraged East Palo Alto apartment dwellers to fight the sale by gathering signatures on petitions, by contacting their representatives and by direct action, such as marches.
During the meeting, a petition was circulated, which urged that the signers push back at Wells Fargo by advocating that they not to sell the Woodland Parks portfolio to Equity Residential. The petition stated that multiple buyers would prevent a Page Mill-like situation and that community residents should be allowed into the process of selecting buyers. It also proposed that Wells Fargo register rents and follow local laws while the bank remained the owner.
Henrietta J. Burroughs contributed to this article. For more information about the article, email firstname.lastname@example.org