New report lays out widespread habitability issues in Eden area

Housing advocates, including members of My Eden Voice, hold a vigil for displaced residents ahead of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors' decision on rental policies. (Courtesy of My Eden Voice)

Alameda County has been aware of housing issues in the Eden area for years but has made little progress in addressing those challenges so far despite the best efforts of residents.

In the Shadows of Eden: Rising Rents, Evictions and Substandard Living Conditions in Alameda County,” a new report from My Eden Voice and the East Bay Housing Organizations, details the challenges faced by renters in the Eden area, including about a third facing major habitability issues, such as broken water heaters, rodent infestations, lead paint exposure, leaks and flooding, rendering their housing uninhabitable according to the state’s minimum standards for habitability. Some have been dealing with these issues for months or years.

“We hope that this report continues to validate the needs of Eden renters and get them help in addressing their habitability issues,” Leo Esclamado, co-director of My Eden Voice, told the East Bay Echo. “But it’s the county’s decision right now how many renters get protected.”

Because the Eden area is in the unincorporated part of the county, it doesn’t have a city council to enact local tenant protections, instead having to rely on the county Board of Supervisors, whose members represent districts outside of the Eden area. But earlier this year, the supervisors decided to reject the kinds of tenant protections suggested in the report, including implementing just cause eviction protections and creating a rental registry, citing the need for a full board to make the decision since it came after the death of 2nd District Supervisor Richard Valle. Only 5th District Supervisor Keith Carson voted to pass all of the protections.

Alameda County has been aware of the issues faced by residents in the unincorporated area for years. The report points to the housing element of the 2015 Alameda County General Plan, which found residents of the unincorporated area had the most reported housing issues, including lacking adequate plumbing and restrooms. The county Planning Department also estimated about two-thirds of the housing units in the unincorporated area may contain lead-based paint.

The details laid out in the latest report illustrate how the situation hasn’t improved since then. Even if landlords carry out necessary repairs, tenants might still face the prospect of being displaced from their homes because of the landlord subsequently raising the rent, said Sasha Perigo, the strategic communications manager for the East Bay Housing Organizations.

“The just cause protection would be really important because it could ensure folks have the right to come back to their apartment at the same rent after these issues are addressed,” Perigo said. “And it could also ensure that they don’t need to live in fear that the landlord could evict them because they raised these issues.”

Beyond habitability issues, renters in the Eden area also deal with housing precarity either because they do not know their rights as tenants — almost two-thirds of Eden renters — or are unprotected by current tenant laws. About 39% of Eden renters live in housing, such as single-family homes, that isn’t covered by the state’s Tenant Protection Act, which includes an annual rent cap of 5% plus inflation and requires landlords to have a just cause for evicting a tenant.

“A third of our renters in single-family homes are not covered by any protections, so they are really vulnerable right now,” Esclamado said. “And the data shows that they are the most fearful of receiving an eviction and can get an arbitrary eviction notice at any time.”

Almost a quarter of renters fear an imminent eviction and more than half reported self-evicting after being verbally harassed by their landlord.

But evictions aren’t the only cause of displacement from the community; about 39% of renters reported they were afraid of being priced out of the area and 72% reported a price increase in the past three years.

While Eden area renters are uniquely vulnerable, affordability issues aren’t restricted to the Eden area. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, 78% of low-income renter households in California are severely cost-burdened and a household must make close to $90,000 a year to afford a two-bedroom rental at market rate.

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