While I was considering continuing my story about “how it all got started,” I could not forget the plight of seniors in Santa Clarita living on Social Security and the results of our communities ever-escalating rent increases. It brought me back to a time when I experienced the problem first-hand.
Digressing back to 1965, I had become a member of an American Motorcycle Association, District 37 Competition Club, the 4 Aces. About half a dozen of the club’s members lived on Dewdrop Street, in what was then Saugus. It seemed like my wife Pam and I were in Santa Clarita every weekend. One of my fellow 4 Aces members, Ed Morris, approached Pam and I and suggested we move in with him while we were looking for a house. We could share expenses, save some money, and be that much ahead of the game. Six months later, our escrow closed, and we became permanent residents. Ed was one good guy, and helped several other families move to our valley as well, including my good friends Jim and Alice Lingrosso.
Fast forward 30 years later. Ed had been twice married and divorced. We had lost track of him, as he moved out of the area. Then suddenly, Jim found him on foot, wandering down Sierra Highway. Ed was homeless and living up the canyon in an inoperative van.
To make this story clearer, Ed was 10 years my senior, and had suffered a serious desert motorcycle accident about six years before we met. The mishap left him cognitively impaired. He was a professional flat track expert who made his living as a cabinet maker. While he was very good at his profession and had no problem with the math involved, he lacked the ability to balance his checkbook. When Jim and my family lived with Ed, he would visit his parents weekly, and they helped him with financial matters. Unfortunately, by the time Jim found him on Sierra Highway, his parents and past employer had passed on, and without their help he was just existing. Ed had always been a heavy drinker, and by this time he was a full-blown alcoholic. But for all his failings, he had a heart of gold, and would give anyone who asked for help the last picture of George Washington he had in his pocket, without concern of how he would eat or pay bills the next day.
Well, Jim picked Ed up and found a spot for him in Newhall’s Whispering Oaks Apartment Complex. Next, came setting up a Social Security SSA account. Jim had a job lined up which was out of town, so he gave me a call to see if I could help. It seems while Social Security did consider Ed disabled, because of his drinking problem and other limitations, they would not give him the money directly. He needed to find a “Social Security Representative Payee,” someone willing to manage his funds. So, after a visit to the local Social Security Office, filling out some forms, and hearing some instructions, the process was under way. Two weeks later, I was approved to take on the task, and for the next seven years, until Ed Morris passed on from COPD, it was my responsibility to pay his bills, ensure he had a roof over his head and food on the table.
I believe it also very important to understand, no matter how mature or disabled a person is, and how true you desire to help, you must not rob a person of their dignity. Jim and I decided, Ed was not a child and should share the responsibilities of maintaining his life. He had a small pension from the Carpenter’s Union, which we had direct deposited monthly, and he was provided an ATM card to access the funds. In that way, Ed had an ability to partially fend for himself, even though it was limited to his monthly allotment.
Social Security funds were handled in a separate account, with all disbursements made by check and a yearly audit of how the funds were used was required. At the time of Ed’s passing, I received a letter from Social Security directing me to close the account and pass on the remaining balance to his trustee or next of kin. Which, of course, I did.
Interesting story, but what has that got to do with today’s issue of seniors being forced out of their homes? Well, I remembered saving that check register all these years. I recovered it from it’s resting place, opened it up, and staring me right in the face was an entry of $575, the amount a one-bedroom Whispering Oaks apartment was going for in 1996.
I wondered what would the apartment cost today, if AB 1482 was established back then? Using AB 1482’s allowable rent increase of 5 percent plus a 3 percent Consumer Price Index, compounded from 1997 to 2019, a one-bedroom Whispering Oaks apartment would cost $3376 per month today, and no seniors living on Social Security would be able to pay such an amount. As it turns out, the previous Whispering Oaks owners were raising rents at an average of less than 2 percent per year.
Why is this example germane to the discussion? Because, when I asked the city council to explain how they were going to help our seniors, a portion of the City Manager’s answer was in part, they (the property owners) are in compliance with state law, the prior owner implemented rent increases which were “lower than allowed over time” and the new owner has come in and increased the rents in a manner which is in compliance with the affordability agreement “over time.”
Putting an example of the city’s answer in plain English, if you were part of a rental agreement which allowed the owner to raise the rent $10 per month, and for the first 10 years the owner decided to only raise the rent $5 per month, on the 11th year, it is the city’s position that it is acceptable to raise the rent $10 for the current 11th year and add another $50 per month, to make up for the years you did not raise the rent the maximum amount.
This is but another situation just like what happened with the Manufactured Home Rent Ordinance protests. At that time the city told the resident that the allowable yearly maximum increase is cumulative, and the property owner may come back in future years and recover any of the past allowable increases which they had previously determined to not be necessary. Since then, the City of Santa Clarita has been using this same concept in determining “Benefit Assessment District Increases” as well, and now new landlords are being allowed to do the same, even though they did not own the property in the past. I strongly suggest you never vote “Yes” again, for any issue, or sign any contract, when yearly increases are not clearly defined as only pertaining to the current year’s criteria.
Part of the AB 1482 loopholes are stated in text which excludes from rent increase limitations, buildings less than 15 years of age, vacant apartments, renters who have not resided in place for a minimum of 12 months, and regulatory restriction contained in an agreement with a government agency. It is no wonder all our local state elected officials voted NO on AB 1482, and only our governor appears to think “California will boast the nation’s strongest statewide renter protections.”
In essence, the city will not be committing any help for the seniors involved, instead they put the problem off on the County of Los Angeles to enforce the rules and asked the Senior Center to provide seniors with information.
So, while you hear a constant buzz from our City Council about the need to build more affordable housing, it is just a buzz, because affordable housing is too expensive to construct in our city, and existing senior affordable housing is fast becoming too expensive for seniors to afford.
I understand private property owners need to be financially solvent and deserve a fair profit on their investment, but if they choose to deal in senior affordable housing and then use their legal influence to force seniors out on the street, they should not be rewarded for such misdeeds.