March 11th, 2015


Price Gouging Slumlords

A discussion is taking place today on craigslist in one of the highest rent areas of the country. In such areas, slumlords rule. Desperate poor people are powerless to protest the type of units they offer, shacks and closets that are illegal and poorly maintained. There was a news story recently about another Bay Area community where a single parent was renting a garage.

I had to reply when I saw this:

A landlord had replied to someone's rant about the state of housing for low income people here with the following (includes a quote of the previous rant to start):

"High rents are driving all the good people away." What's so good about them? Are people that CAN afford rentals not good people? As a landlord in SC, I would much rather rent to someone who makes 4x the rent than someone who is barely able to afford it. It's simple. We have less problems with tenants who have higher income/rent ratios.

If you find that rent is too expensive here, then you need to relocate to somewhere cheaper. There will always be someone who is able/willing to pay the rental market here, so move along and stop complaining. The LAST thing landlords will do is bring down rental rates!

My reply

It is true, good people come in all income levels. Your notion that all the working class people in Santa Cruz should "move along" is a simplistic one. If you've been paying some of the highest rents in the country it is highly unlikely that you have the funds saved to move somewhere cheaper. Sadly, the places where rent is that much cheaper are also places that have less jobs.

I'd like the landlords who expect poor folks to just move away to imagine that they wake up tomorrow in a Santa Cruz where that has indeed happened.

Who do you imagine will now bus your tables, wash your dishes when you go out to eat, wait on your tables or perform the many other low paid service jobs here?

You also aren't considering the fact that people can fall into poverty. The person who leaves her abusive husband and decides to go back to school needs some place to live too. She may not be able to leave because she shares child custody or because she simply lacks the money to do so.

You say that the people who make 4 times the amount of your rent cause less trouble. This is classism in action. Poor folks are just as varied as middle class people when it comes to paying rent, maintaining the rental property and being a good tenant. In my last apartment complex the manager complained that many of the IT professionals simply forgot to pay their rent on time. It must be nice to do so and get a gentle reminder rather than an immediate eviction notice.

I have always paid on time, even when I was a single parent student and most of my income went to rent. I am one of the people you would have liked to see leave this community. I got out of poverty and have done years of volunteer work here but you would like to drive us all out with high rents.

In my many years here as a renter (and I'm thankful never to have to rent a home here again) I have seen and lived in a collection of substandard housing that would shock most middle class people. I lived in an outbuilding that used to house chinchillas, for instance. I have viewed "apartments" with shared bathrooms (with other tenants), "bedrooms" that you could barely squeeze a bed into, electricity that constantly tripped the circuit breaker with basic appliances, a bedroom loft with rickety stairs built onto the wall that probably wouldn't have passed inspection. I've lived with cockroach infestations that landlords didn't eradicate and other indignities and health hazards. I've lost my belongings to leaks that weren't fixed in a timely manner and I've dealt with slumlords who acted like they were doing me a huge favor for renting their unsafe and unsanitary unit at just under the going rates.

I recently saw an ad here that was reported and then flagged and taken down that expected the tenant to use an OUTDOOR shower as well as a toilet that was separate from the studio unit.

I have been a renter in several cities over 30 years and I have never seen a group of price-gouging opportunists like the landlords of Santa Cruz. There are still some ethical landlords here but they are vastly outnumbered by those who exploit the situation. Low income renters are forced to put up with these unsafe and over-priced rental units because they have to live somewhere and can afford nothing better. They know that demanding repairs will get them evicted or their rent raised to levels they can't afford. The slumlords have all the power.

Funds for subsidized housing are not remotely adequate for the number of people who need it here. Santa Cruz needs to figure out how the people who do the low paid work here can live in decent and safe housing. (Raising minimum wage nationwide is another valuable discussion we could have.)

I have escaped bad rental housing in Santa Cruz but I haven't forgotten where I came from or the many others who, like me, are trying to survive here.

I had to change woman to person to avoid the anti-discrimination software that tried to block my post.