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Seniors living at Rancho La Paz mobile home park will now have a couple of choices in rent subsidies after the Fullerton City Council unanimously voted to implement a renter subsidy.

Meanwhile, Anaheim City Council members, after months of inaction on the issue, may create something similar to Fullerton’s rent subsidy. 

Seniors forced council discussions in both cities after they began lobbying the cities for help in March because the mobile home park straddles the border of Fullerton and Anaheim. 

Because of their lobbying efforts, residents were able to negotiate gradual rent increases over the next five years and the owner, John Saunders, agreed to fund a rent subsidy program also. 

Cheryl Moi, a Rancho La Paz resident who’s helped organize seniors at the park, told Anaheim Councilmembers at its Aug. 13 meeting that although seniors hoped Fullerton would adopt a rent control ordinance, at least it was clear where residents stood with the Anaheim City Council. 

“You told us from the beginning that five of you don’t give a shit,” Moi told Anaheim Councilmembers during public comment. 

In an Aug. 21 phone interview, Moi said the Fullerton City Council has been actively looking for ways to help the Rancho La Paz seniors.  

“Fullerton, it took them a while, but they care about their residents. They have bent over backwards to try to help the residents in Fullerton,” Moi said, who’s attended both city’s council meetings. 

Moi, who lives on the Anaheim side of the park, lambasted the Anaheim City Council majority. 

“Anaheim Council, from the beginning in March, basically have told us they don’t give a damn, except for two of them. And they made that deal that Saunders would negotiate, which didn’t do much. But they haven’t in any way, five of them, have not helped us,” Moi said, adding Anaheim Councilmembers Denise Barnes and Jose Moreno have regularly visited the park and offered help.  

Fullerton Councilwoman Jan Flory, who advocated for Rancho La Paz residents along with her Council colleagues, said while Anaheim didn’t do anything, Fullerton will continue to monitor the seniors’ rent situation. 

“They didn’t do anything and we’re continuing to work on it,” Flory said in an Aug. 22 phone interview. “The story is not over yet.”

She also said some Anaheim residents have been contacting her. 

“There were two Anaheim residents who had email me this past week and I suggested to each of them that they contact one or two of the Council people. I suggested Dr. Jose Moreno as well as Jordan Brandman, or their affordable housing liaison,” Flory said. 

But, according to documents provided by Anaheim, funds that could’ve been used to subsidize mobile home seniors rents have already been allocated this year.

Fullerton Councilman Ahmad Zahra, who originally brought forward the idea of a rent subsidy for the seniors, said he’s been talking with some Anaheim Councilmembers throughout the process in hopes of Anaheim also creating a rent subsidy. 

“I’ve been in touch with Jose Moreno, but I’ve also been in touch with Councilmember Jordan Brandman to keep them updated,” Zahra said Aug. 22.  “He (Brandman) asked for a briefing — for an update what happened in Fullerton at their next council meeting.” 

Brandman did not respond for comment about the issue.  

But at the Anaheim City Council meeting Tuesday, Councilmembers indicated they’re interested in seeing if the city can form a rent subsidy like Fullerton did.

Brandman said, during the Tuesday meeting, despite the federal funds already having been allocated for Anaheim, he still wants to look into a similar program.

“But, we are Anaheim and we figure it out. And, gosh darn it, we’re going to do it,” Brandman said.

Anaheim Councilman Trevor O’Neil said the ad hoc housing committee he sits on is already exploring the issue.

“I wanted to just assure you that we are in the process, as a committee, of exploring that as an option,” O’Neil said.

He added that federal funds are largely being spent to help the homeless population, but the committee is looking at using some incoming state funds to help fund a renter subsidy.

Rents were originally scheduled to increase June 1, but an agreement brokered March 27 by Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and Councilmen Trevor O’Neil and Stephen Faessel put a temporary hold on the increase and Saunders agreed to negotiate with residents. Rents are expected to increase Oct. 1. 

Saunders bought the property in February and the property tax increased from $100,000 to $800,000 a year. 

Since the rent increase delay, the Fullerton City Council had been mulling over adopting a temporary rent control ordinance that would limit rents until its Aug. 13 meeting, when Councilmembers decided to put a hold on the ordinance and instead look to a rent relief fund to help the residents. Saunders threatened to nix his subsidies if Fullerton adopted the ordinance. 

Fullerton’s subsidy is aimed at all seniors living in mobile home parks in Fullerton, giving first priority to residents who pay 50 percent or more of their income to rent. 

Anaheim Councilman Jose Moreno said while the rent relief fund is a good idea, it could incentivize property owners to unduly raise rents because the city will cover the gap. He also said he’s willing to ask the Anaheim Council to look into it as a last resort. 

“There is a slippery slope there which, what you’re doing in fact is incentivizing mobile home park owners or apartment owners … to raise the rents because the city, or the federal government is going to subsidize the rents. So you may inadvertently be contributing to the raise of market rents in the city,” Moreno said in an Aug. 21 interview. 

Zahra said he hopes that’s not the case. 

“I hope that is not the message is received by landlords because we want everybody to live comfortably and we don’t want to add more problems,” Zahra said. “We do obviously have an overall housing crisis and rent is expensive due to market factors and other reasons, but I don’t want to see a landlord take advantage of us or our residents. Because we will respond.” 

Sidhu, at the April 16 meeting, said the city shouldn’t interfere in the market by adopting a rent control ordinance. 

“It is unrealistic to think that Anaheim alone [can] correct the market forces that have driven the issue,” Sidhu said, adding that increasing the housing stock will help alleviate rent hikes.

“There is no city in Orange County with local rent control ordinance or ordinance that will seek to interfere with the landlord and the relationship. This tells me that all the cities in Orange County have concluded this is not an effective approach,” Sidhu said.

The Anaheim Council killed Rancho La Paz residents’ hopes of a temporary rent control ordinance on mobile home parks when Councilmembers voted to table the item and said they couldn’t get involved in the market. 

Moreno compared his council colleagues resistance to interfere with the rent market to how they’ve handled the Angels baseball negotiations so far. 

“This Council majority under, Harry Sidhu, is doing everything it can to subsidize and suppress the market for a billionaire sports team owner,” said Moreno, referring to the Anaheim Council’s January vote to reinstate the stadium lease and extend the team’s exit clause until December 31. 

Anaheim Councilmembers voted 5-2 to reinstate the stadium lease and extend the exit clause in January, with Councilwoman Denise Barnes and Moreno dissenting. Experts on sports stadium negotiations told Voice of OC that Anaheim gave up all its leverage in negotiations with the move. 

“That, in itself, is the city council intervening in the market. Because they opted out of their lease,” Moreno said. 

Although Anaheim tabled the proposed temporary rent control ordinance April 16, Rancho La Paz residents have continued to speak to the Council during public comment at nearly every meeting since. They even spurred some apartment tenants to lobby the Anaheim City Council for rent control ordinances, but the Council refused to adopt any. 

The Fullerton City Council was on track to adopt a temporary rent control ordinance until Flory met with Saunders Aug. 5, the day before the Council meeting.  

According to an email sent to Flory roughly two hours before the Council meeting, Saunders said he would fund his subsidy as long as no rent control ordinance was adopted by the Fullerton. 

Flory shared the email with Voice of OC and it stated the stipulations, including keeping the subsidy program for six years, will remain “for so long as no rent stabilization or similar measure is enacted.” 

According to a letter from Saunders in the Fullerton City Council July 16 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. 

Peter Wittingham, a spokesman for Saunders, said Rancho La Paz residents can expect to see leases before Sept. 1. 

At the Aug. 20 Fullerton City Council meeting, city staff said residents can only receive one subsidy — either the city’s or Saunders’ subsidy — because federal guidelines won’t allow residents to draw from two rent subsidies.  

Moi said she’s currently paying $680 a month. Moi will see her rent increase to $809 Oct. 1 and will be $962 beginning Oct. 1, 2020. By 2024, her rent will be $1,434 a month, a 111 percent increase. 

Many residents told Voice of OC they are paying roughly what Moi pays each month. 

Faced with the looming increases, Moi said the Rancho La Paz residents have formed tight-knit community. 

“The one thing all this junk with Saunders has done is this park has come together as a community in a much different way than it was eight months ago,” Moi said in the phone interview. “It’s become a community more than it was.”

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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