The human cost of rising rents in Richmond

by Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles

As gentrification increases in the Bay Area, low- and moderate-income renters are finding it increasingly difficult to find housing at affordable rents. Renters, including young professionals who can no longer afford to live in San Francisco, are steadily moving to the East Bay. The inevitable result is, of course, increased demand for rental units and increased rents to renters.

Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles
Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles

Richmond has long been a city that has welcomed those seeking employment, a better life and a new place to call home, be they migrants from other U.S. states or immigrants from other countries. These individuals and families have come to claim and love the city in which they live and make their marks and contributions. Many are homeowners while many more are renters.

Some of those who have been here the longest are in danger of losing their living situations and may be forced out of their homes and out of the city. That’s just wrong, and we have a responsibility to prevent that from happening.

In the city of Richmond, a city of mainly low and medium income individuals, we are feeling the effects as rent increases and incomes stay the same. In addition to the pressures of gentrification, a number of other factors are raising rents. Some loss of affordable housing can be rightfully attributed to land speculators and a severe shortage of low-cost housing. Other positive factors such as the creation of the UC Richmond Bay Campus and an increase in the safety and improved quality of life for many in Richmond are also beginning to push rents up.

At this point renters are not being driven out in great numbers. However, that is a real possibility if we are not proactive. Unless we take action to protect low- and moderate-income families, who are largely people of color, it is clear that they will eventually be forced out. Richmond officials are working to counter these pressures and to continue being a diverse city that is affordable for people of varied income levels.

I am encouraging my colleagues of the Richmond City Council to begin looking at rent stabilization programs that have been implemented in other Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Some have been more successful than others and include: measures that insure reasonable and manageable rent increases, relocation assistance and requirements for affordable housing as parts of approval of projects.

Currently in Richmond there are a number of proposed projects for high cost housing that, as required, are either including low to moderate income units in the building designs or paying a fee to the city to be used for low cost housing. It is essential that we remain vigilant to assure that the funds are spent to build low cost housing within a reasonable timeframe.

I am asking the City Council to support me in directing staff to explore the development of programs that would serve tenants and landlords in a manner that is fair to both parties. For example, programs would ensure that the rights of the tenant are met while also ensuring the landlord is compensated at a reasonable price. These programs will require thorough exploration and a public process. We must respect the current residents of our city, even as we attract and welcome new residents.

In Richmond we are at a turning point as our city moves through some major transformations for the better. Our community members have participated in this process of change, and they deserve to reap the benefits.

Unless we act quickly, economic pressures will drive out many of our current residents. We pride ourselves on being a city of pride and purpose with many forms of diversity, including race, culture and income levels.

If we want to maintain this diversity and grow it, we must act now. To lose our best and brightest who make valuable contributions to our community simply because they could not afford to live in Richmond would be too high a price to pay.

Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, also a member of the Richmond City Council, works full time as a mentalhealth specialistfor Contra Costa County. She was born in Panama City, where she grew up in a bilingual, multicultural household. Her parents moved to the United States in1972, and she has lived in Richmond for the last 13 years. She can be reached at Jovankabeckles@gmail.com.