Dec. 6 was a big day for Santa Rosa mobile home owners, who have spent months, if not years, advocating for stricter limits on rent increases in their parks.
After nearly two decades, the City Council voted to update and cap how much mobile home park owners can raise rents each year for the land beneath residents’ homes.
Previously, Santa Rosa mobile home rent control, which is governed by different laws than other housing, was tied to 100% of the consumer price index (CPI), a measure of the prices of goods and services paid by consumers, with a cap of 6%. in 2023 it would have been 5.7%.
After city-sponsored talks between residents and owners failed, city council members stepped in and ultimately overruled a proposal by park owners and even a staff recommendation to limit rent increases to 70% of CPI with a 4% cap, the strictest limits in the area.
“It was a win,” Tom Lapenna, president of the Santa Rosa Industrial Homeowners Association and a resident of Sequoia Gardens Mobile Home Park, said at the time.
But the victory was tinged with confusion and frustration. As the holidays approached, some residents, including some who fought for the new law, realized they wouldn’t be affected this year.
In a December letter, then-Chief Assistant City Attorney Jeff Berk said residents of the mobile home park whose rents are due to increase on Jan. 1 would still be subject to the previous law. That’s because the new ordinance didn’t go into effect until Jan. 6, 30 days after the council’s vote.
“Only increases beginning on or after January 6, 2023, are required to apply the new rates,” he wrote.
That means hundreds of residents in five of Santa Rosa’s 16 rent-controlled mobile home parks — Carriage Court, Coddingtown, Country, Roseland and Wayside Gardens — saw their rents rise by 5.7 percent instead of the 3.99 percent increase that others will gain this year. .
Another park with a January 1 rent increase posted a 4% increase.
It “doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Rural Mobile Home Park resident Jo Ann Jones said Tuesday during the City Council’s first public comment of 2023. “We have gone too far for so many months, wasting time, energy and resources, to leave the 2023 ordinance review half-baked.”
Jones, who was heavily involved in pushing the new law, lives in one of the parks that is now exempt.
Mobile homes are considered one of the few affordable housing options, a growing concern, especially for older people who make up a growing portion of the county and state’s homeless population.
For most seniors living in Santa Rosa mobile home parks, even small changes in rent can make a big difference, especially for those on fixed incomes.
While the revised law as it stands next year will apply to those currently without new protection, further increases would increase this year’s top rent.
The news came as a shock and disappointment, especially since residents flagged the issue until a new ordinance was considered by the council.
“That’s what we wanted to avoid. We didn’t want anyone to get hurt. How do you explain that to 5 Parks residents,” Lapenna said. “I don’t know what happened here. It shouldn’t have been a problem. This is what we feared and told them, and it happened.
In fact, at the Nov. 29 meeting where the revised law was first proposed, council members spent 10 minutes discussing how to make sure all the changes would apply to all parks.
“Part of that time was due to the anticipated increase in January,” then-Mayor Chris Rogers said.
Officials debated whether to pass the law as an emergency order so that the law takes effect immediately, or to impose a moratorium on rent increases until the law takes effect. City staff said it should be possible to cover all residents, and Santa Rosa City Attorney Sue Gallagher said her office will explore options.
In December, the city of Windsor passed an emergency ordinance to limit rent increases while the full ordinance is pending and pending.
In an interview last week, Gallagher said the final call that the new law would only apply to parks with rent increases after Jan. 6 was “based on a legal analysis,” though she did not elaborate. And while an emergency order or moratorium would have solved the problem, “there are threshold findings that you have to make,” she said, and “that’s a pretty high bar.”
One such consideration is the level of impact on public health and safety.
However, Lapena and other residents were left with the impression that the new order would apply to everyone.
Rogers said he and other council members think so too.
“We thought everyone was covered,” he said. “The question is, how do we fix it?
“We need to make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules and that we are doing everything we can to protect vulnerable seniors.”
Rogers said he is looking at options to offer before the city’s upcoming goal-setting discussion or as the council outlines policy priorities. Both he and Councilwoman Victoria Fleming said they are talking to lawyers and mentioned the possibility of a one-time rent reduction next year for those currently uninsured to even out the increase at all parks.
“There are some remedies that could be applied,” Fleming said.
“When things aren’t fair, it’s really hard for people, especially if they’re living paycheck to paycheck,” she said, acknowledging the confusion that has occurred but emphasizing a commitment to finding solutions. “The City Council is not turning a blind eye or turning a cold shoulder to the seriousness of their challenges.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Gallagher said the city attorney’s office will look into “proceeding options.”
LaPenna and others plan to make sure officials don’t abandon the problem.
“I’ll bring people to every council meeting if I have to,” he said. “I’ve said it before that I believe they will do the right thing. I still hope they will.”
“In Your Corner” is a new column that uses the watchdog’s reporting for the benefit of the community. If you have a concern, tip or idea, you can contact In Your Corner columnist Marisa Endicott at 707-521-5470 or [email protected] On Twitter @InYourCornerTPD and Facebook @InYourCornerTPD.