Residents of most mobile home parks in Santa Rosa will likely see smaller rent increases than expected after the city council opted to forestall a pending inflation-linked jump set for January.
Set to rise nearly 6 percent, the rent increase at regulated mobile home parks was trimmed to 4 percent.
At the suggestion of council member Natalie Rogers, the formula was also changed for future increases. While still linked to annual changes in the region's consumer price index, future increases would be limited to seventy percent of however much CPI rises, rather than one hundred percent.
Dianne Monroe, a resident of one of the parks, pleaded for more modest increases. She said the impact of rent increases on people living on fixed incomes is severe.
"Some of my neighbors are already walking a tight-rope between paying rent and buying food and necessary medicine, with little or no space before falling into homelessness. Personally, I'm not yet at the homeless abyss, but my calculator says that I will be there if rent increases keep on going with the trajectory they've been going."
In contrast, Greg O'Hagen, who represents one of the parks, urged the council to reject a tenant-backed measure that he says went too far.
"What the residents are proposing is creating a major imbalance. You can't take CPI and lower it this much and not have any other balance on the other side." He said disruption of revenue to owners could leave park operators short on cash for maintenance and amenities.
Park owners say if their financials indeed sour, they would pursue 'fair rate of return hearings,' a process that could approve further increases outside of the formula.
Councilmember Rogers said she was willing to accept the possible tradeoff.
"I would rather take that risk, into having the hearings, than have more of our seniors on the streets and not be housed."
Park owners gave some ground, agreeing to reduce the maximum rent hike to three quarters of the CPI, but they sought to maintain the six percent cap. Park owners offered to voluntarily create a $100,000 fund to subsidize rents for the neediest. It's unclear if that pledge remains as the council moved to reduce the cap.
Tenant advocates didn't get a clean sweep either.
Establishing rent caps in mobile home parks is at the top of the wish list for Margaret DeMatteo, a housing policy attorney for Legal Aid of Sonoma County.
"If I had a magic wand, what would happen tomorrow, let's see. All of the outdated mobile home rent stabilization ordinances, including at the county level, at the local level, they would all be amended to lower their annual rent increase cap. This is where our seniors live, this is where the last affordable housing exists."
The council did end up sweetening the pot for park owners; adding provisions allowing a 10 percent rent hike when mobile homes change hands....park owners had sought 15 percent. Such increases aren't currently allowed.
While that would shift more costs to future residents, some current residents feared it would also make their homes more difficult to sell. Mayor Chris Rogers likened the proposal to proposition 13---essentially providing more stability for current residents.
Barring a dramatic turn, the new rules will be adopted following a second vote on the item December 6th.