Anaheim Seniors Could Get Rent Relief in January

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Rancho La Paz residents Rose Mary and Don McLeod.

Anaheim City Council members are moving forward with a rent-relief safety net program for all local seniors after debating – and rejecting – a rent relief program specifically for seniors living in mobile home parks after Rancho La Paz residents have publicly pleaded for help on rent hikes for most of the year.

The move stems from the rent increases faced by Rancho La Paz seniors next month after a new owner bought the park in February. The park straddles the border of Anaheim and Fullerton. 

Councilman Jordan Brandman proposed a rental subsidy for mobile home park seniors, mirroring what the Fullerton City Council unanimously approved Aug. 23.

After a Brandman tried to replace safety net proposal with his rent subsidy and use general fund dollars instead of federal money to implement the program faster, the mobile home rent subsidy proposal failed 3-4, with Mayor Harry Sidhu and Councilmembers Lucille Kring, Stephen Faessel and Trevor O’Neil voting no. 

The Council instead voted on a safety net program for all seniors in Anaheim, which includes a rent subsidy. But the safety net’s details still have to be ironed out by city staff, unlike Brandman’s proposal. 

O’Neil, who sits on the city’s ad hoc housing committee, brought the senior safety net program forward, which looks to help all seniors in the city. 

“While considering how we can help, I really felt that it was more prudent of us to promote policies that would more broadly apply to many different circumstances …  to provide a real safety net to all seniors in Anaheim who truly truly need help,” O’Neil said during Tuesday’s meeting. 

Brandman said O’Neil’s program will create a “Tale of Two Cities,” referring to the Charles Dickens novel. 

“Interestingly enough, the city in the north, in the great novel by Dickens, they came out of it just fine. The city in the south, not so much. And that’s what’s being created here tonight. Also, you’re going to force people like (Rancho La Paz residents) Lupe (Ramirez) and Cheryl (Moi) and all these other residents to fight each other … What are they the Kurds and the Turks?”

Brandman became visibly upset and told the Council it should have voted for his proposal, which was heard just before O’Neil’s safety net proposal. 

“This is ego, draped in a smackdown. And I refuse to be part of it. We should’ve voted in favor of the item previous because it was the right thing to do. This is not the right thing to do. This is wrong,” Brandman said. “Every criticism that the opposition has had, including opposition against me, is the decisions … have been driven from Anaheim Hills.”

Brandman continued, “That’s what’s being borne out here tonight. Policy from Anaheim Hills because they think they know best for the people of the flatlands and, frankly, for poor people. It’s abominable, it’s awful. And I’ll be voting no.” 

The proposed safety net program, as detailed in a five-page staff report, doesn’t exactly spell out clear guidelines on who is eligible. Unlike Brandman’s proposed policy, which was detailed and ready to implement, the safety need will need to come back to the Council for a final vote after staff figures out program specifics. 

The safety net proposal passed 4-2-1 and should come back to the Council within 30 to 45 days for approval. Councilmembers Denise Barnes and Brandman dissented, Councilman Jose Moreno abstained. 

In a Wednesday phone interview, Brandman said the most immediate problem faced by seniors are those living at Rancho La Paz.

“The impetus for the first solution was the issue at Rancho La Paz. And possibly, to a greater extent, at other senior mobile home parks in the Anaheim and Fullerton area. Because Rancho La Paz happens to straddle our two cities. That’s the issue that needs to be fixed,” Brandman said. 

“Where is the justice in having one set of rules for the northern third and another set of rules that aren’t nearly as impactful for residents in the southern two-thirds? Where’s the justice? Where’s the equity? I don’t see it,” he said.  

O’Neil didn’t respond for comment. 

The earliest Anaheim seniors can expect help from the program is January, said city staff during the meeting. 

Rancho La Paz residents are facing an 80 percent rent increase by 2024, starting with a 19 percent increase next month. 

In Brandman’s proposal, which would’ve only applied to seniors living in mobile home parks, the program would give first priority to residents paying more than 50 percent of their monthly income for rent, followed by seniors paying over 30 percent of their monthly income for rent. 

But O’Neil’s safety net proposal, didn’t have clear guidelines on who qualifies for the rent subsidy. Although the staff report refers to Federal guidelines, it doesn’t spell out exactly what the income guidelines are, like Brandman’s proposal did. 

The rent subsidy within the safety net proposal states an eligible senior will pay up to 30 percent of their income to rent and the subsidy would cover the rest. 

The safety net also would cover one-time expenses for seniors at or below 50 percent of the area’s median income “who are facing possible housing displacement/eviction as a result of a recent financial hardship,” according to the staff report. 

The proposal also aims to provide case management for seniors to help them navigate the various services offered to the elderly.

Moreno asked if the proposed safety net program was from the ad hoc housing committee O’Neil sits on. 

O’Neil said he saw the rent subsidy Fullerton was looking to enact and “I subsequently had a conversation with staff. It did not go into the ad hoc committee. I was the only member of the ad hoc committee to have a conversation with staff.” 

The two fought over the issue when Moreno began asking O’Neil specifics about his proposal.

“In your mind, on this policy or pilot [program] would it include folks who have become victimized by rent spikes in our city?” Moreno asked O’Neil. 

O’Neil replied, “Potentially.”

Moreno then said the item maybe should be continued until more specifics are hammered out. 

“We don’t even need to vote on this — this is something that’s half baked, it looks, because you’re not sure,” Moreno said. 

The two Councilmembers have verbally battled each other for months over various issues. 

“I’m not sure we need to vote on this, because you’re not asking us actually to implement or vote on a program. You’re asking us to give directives that we’re interested in, is that correct?” Moreno asked. 

O’Neil replied, “The staff report is actually very clear on the parameters of the program.” 

Moreno asked him to remind him about specifics in the staff report. 

“You have the staff report. I’d like to call the question on continuance please,” O’Neil said. 

“I might actually withdraw the motion. That’s because I’m just wondering what the difference is, Mr. O’Neil. I don’t know if you want to be collegial or pick up your toys and go home to the hills. What do you want to do?” Moreno said. “Does it make a difference whether we continue it or do you need a vote on it this evening?” 

O’Neil didn’t answer his questions. 

“We have a motion on the table. Let’s take it up,” O’Neil said. 

Moreno withdrew his motion to continue the item and Brandman  attempted to substitute O’Neil’s proposal with the mobile home subsidy program and fund the $350,000 subsidy entirely with general fund dollars, which ultimately failed. 

“I’ll remind us that the Council quickly came up with [$425,000] to fund the Chamber of Commerce,” Moreno said. “It also funded, out of general fund dollars, $250,000 for the Anaheim First initiative.” 

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