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Residents at Rancho La Paz senior mobile home park could get some help with expected rent increases when the Fullerton City Council discusses the issue Tuesday, which could mean a future rent control ordinance. 

Because the mobile home park straddles the border of Anaheim and Fullerton, seniors began lobbying both city councils in March, when they learned of incoming rent increases of up to $400  per month. Rent was going to increase for the nearly 390 mobile homes June 1, but was delayed after the owner, John Saunders, met with Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and Anaheim Councilmen Trevor O’Neil and Stephen Faessel. 

Since then, Saunders has been meeting residents on how best to roll out the rent increases he said are needed because of the increase in property tax.

Rose Mary and Don McLeod Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Rose Mary McLeod, 78 years old, said there are some residents who have been contemplating suicide because they won’t be able to afford the rent increases and can’t afford to leave. 

“There’s a lot of people right now talking about suicide,” McLeod said. “Just kind of giving up on living. They have no place to go. Their families are gone — nobody’s left living.” 

Her husband, Don McLeod, said the two are going to have to sell their Rancho La Paz mobile home that they’ve lived in for the past 20 years, adding they’re looking at moving to New Mexico. 

The 90-year-old said he gets a small pension from the U.S. Air Force after serving as a flight engineer, mechanic and line chief beginning in World War II, through the Korean War and into the early part of the Vietnam War, when he retired in 1966.  

“We’re very, very concerned about those who can’t really afford it. There are those who have no option. At least we’re going into the first cycle (of rent increases) without much anguish,” Don McLeod said, adding the rents will eventually become unaffordable.  

According to a letter from Saunders in the Fullerton City Council agenda report, rents will go up 19 percent Oct. 1 and will increase another 19 percent Oct. 1, 2020. In 2021, the rent will increase 15 percent and after that rents will increase 9 percent annually until 2024. 

Residents will be offered six or 10-year leases that start Oct. 1 and after year seven starts in 2025, the rents won’t increase more than seven percent, according to Saunders’ letter. 

Saunders and the residents came to an agreement on how to implement the rent increases, with retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James Smith serving as an arbitrator in the non-binding proceedings, according to the agenda letter.

Todd Harrison Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Rancho La Paz resident Todd Harrison said the looming rent increases have brought the community closer. 

“We turned from people that live next to us into true neighbors as we had to band together to fight this,” said the 64-year-old Harrison. “We discovered as we started to organize that there’s a lot of really hungry people here.” 

Harrison, who’s on disability from brain surgery, said the residents have been able to bring in Meals on Wheels, grocery store donations and donations from food pantries to the Rancho La Paz residents who are facing a food shortage even before the rent increase. 

Harrison, who currently pays $670 a month, will see his rent increase to $797 Oct. 1 and will be $948 beginning Oct. 1, 2020. By 2024, his rent will be $1,413 a month, a 111 percent increase. 

“If I can get back from disability, I can just hack the full rate, although even that would slowly start to be drawing down my retirement savings,” Harrison said. “If I don’t get back … boy, those savings are going to be evaporating pretty quickly and I don’t know where we would go next.” 

Harrison does technical support on power plant sensors and monitors. 

Don and Rose Mary McLeod said they pay $695 a month right now. 

“So, we’ll handle the first raise which will go into effect the first of October and then we gotta get out of here. We have to leave the state because there’s no place else to go we can afford. That’s it. Nothing. Bye bye,” Rose Mary McLeod said. 

The couple’s rent will increase to $827 Oct. 1 and will reach $984 a month by Oct. 1, 2020. If they stay until 2024, their rent will increase to $1,465 a month. 

Saunders is putting together a three-tiered rent subsidy program for the senior community, which he’s funding himself, according to consultant Peter Wittingham. 

“Ownership does recognize that these increases may present a daunting challenge to many of the residents. Therefore, as ownership has promised since the purchase of the park, a safety net rent subsidy program is also being instituted,” reads Saunders’ letter. 

According to information attached to the Fullerton City Council agenda, a single person household can’t make over $41,500 annually to qualify for the subsidy. And an applicant’s net assets can’t be higher than $200,000 — including a retirement account. The mobile home isn’t included in the program’s definition of assets. 

Fullerton Councilmembers could also choose to use some federal money to set up a rental assistance program for the residents, according to the staff report. 

The Anaheim City Council majority decided to indefinitely table the item at its April 16 meeting and the Fullerton City Council directed its staff April 2 to research various ways the city can help the Rancho La Paz residents with rent issues. 

Attached to the Fullerton City Council’s agenda is Anaheim City Councilman Jose Moreno’s proposed mobile home rent control ordinance, which would have capped rents at 3 percent annually or a rent increase based on the consumer price index, whichever amount was greater. 

Wittingham said if Fullerton does adopt a rent control ordinance, it’s unclear how it would affect the Anaheim portion of the park. 

“I’m not sure what the implications would be if one city would adopt something in terms of rent control,” Wittingham said. “I would leave that to the city attorney to opine upon.” 

Lia Barrera Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Lia Barrera, a 73-year old who works at Angel Stadium, said she may have to find another job during the off season to help cover rent increases after a while. When baseball is not in season, she said she collects unemployment between the inconsistent work, like monster truck and motocross shows, at Angel Stadium 

“I’m one of the lucky ones who are still working,” Barerra said, adding down the road “I would barely be able to make it. It will be tight.” 

She pays $680 a month currently and it will increase to $809 beginning Oct. 1 and $962 by Oct. 1, 2020. If she stays until 2024, her monthly rent will be $1,434 a month. 

“I wasn’t able to sleep for a long time. I tried to meditate,” Barrera said. “There’s a lot of people like that.” 

Don and Rose Mary McLeod said they noticed differences in Fullerton and Anaheim city councils. 

“It’s kind of a general attitude in Anaheim of we don’t need these old people. They’re very costly, they use up all the doctor’s time, they take medicine like crazy — they don’t make any money, so who needs them?” Rose Mary McLeod said. 

She said while she’s appreciated Anaheim Councilmembers Moreno and Denise Barnes visits to the mobile home park, the Fullerton City Council is the one the residents are banking on. 

“I spoke at the last Council meeting (June 18). I told them I very much appreciate your support. We’re not counting on Anaheim, we’re counting on you. We’re hoping Fullerton can shame Anaheim a bit,” Rose Mary Mcleod said. 

The Fullerton City Council meets at 6:30 pm at City Hall. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

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