Families forced out of low-income Healdsburg apartments as new owners plan renovation, rent hike
Five families in a low-rent Healdsburg apartment complex that recently changed hands have had their leases terminated by the new owner, triggering impassioned pleas from neighbors that the city find more immediate ways to address an affordable housing crisis they say is deepening, pushing out the local workforce, including ethnic minorities.
Community members, including four of the tenants at the eight-unit Piper Street complex, packed the City Council chambers Monday night and demanded Healdsburg take stronger action to protect the affected renters and sustain the city’s affordable housing stock.
Some questioned how the city has been spending a tax hike approved by voters three years ago on hotel stays, with the revenue dedicated to preserving and adding to Healdsburg’s housing for local workers.
“It seems the bulk of that money was spent on staff salaries, which I would say ... was poorly misappropriated,” said Ari Rosen, a Healdsburg chef and restaurateur who has lived on Piper Street across from the apartment complex since 2005. “If affordable housing is the No. 1 issue, then let’s treat it that way. Let’s keep neighborhoods diverse. Let’s keep the housing stock diverse.”
City officials contend, however, that the tax money has been spent properly, and that they’re making headway on the complicated issue. They cite the hiring of a new housing administrator to take on the challenge, development of an updated long-term housing action plan and the completion and planning of several new affordable housing projects.
The Piper Street apartments are the latest Healdsburg housing complex to generate public scrutiny amid concern about gentrification and displacement of low- and middle-income residents. In 2015, the 21-unit Prentice Apartments sold to a Larkspur investment firm, resulting in the eviction of all of the tenants, most of whom were Latino.
The new dispute follows a Marin County landlord’s purchase of the apartments at the corner of Piper and Brown streets, northeast of the Plaza, for $2.96 million, according to Compass real estate agent Chad Verbish, who represented the buyers in the deal. The property also includes a single-family house used by a live-in tenant for a small preschool.
Three of the units are vacant after renters left when it was announced the building was up for sale. The remaining renters, all of whom are Latino, have lived there for years, according to the longtime property manager Gail Ryan of Healdsburg Realty.
The tenants were initially told the change in ownership would not result in their leases being terminated, according to notices issued by the new landlord through Ryan. But buyers Vikram and Juhi Dutt opted to reverse course after seeing the extent of renovations needed during a final inspection, according to the last in a series of notices to tenants. The five families were given 90 days to vacate last week.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I keep looking, but it’s too expensive,” said Francisco Arguelles, 38, who has lived in the complex for five years with his wife and two young children. “I’ve lived in Healdsburg for almost 20 years. This is home. My two jobs are here. My life is here.”
Arguelles is a line cook at two restaurants in town. His wife, Silvia Diaz, 40, works part time as a hotel housekeeper between watching their kids. They pay $1,595 per month for their two-bed, one-bathroom unit.
For a new rental, Arguelles estimates he needs $10,000 for the required deposit and first and last months’ rent, an amount the family does not have.
The four other tenant families, including at least one resident of more than 20 years, are in a similar situation - with no place to go in Healdsburg’s tight rental market, which includes some of Sonoma County’s priciest real estate. The preschool operator on the property has been told she’ll be allowed to stay on a one-year lease at a rate that’s $200 more than her current $2,035 monthly rent. After that year, she doesn’t know what will happen.
A phone message left with Vikram and Juhi Dutt went unreturned Wednesday. The complex was built in 1977 and is in need of refurbishment, said Verbish, who represented the couple in the purchase.
“I don’t know exactly what the game plan is, but my understanding is they want to remodel the spaces and obviously cover the cost of the project because it’s an investment property,” Verbish said. “The units need to be updated, as they’re all original.”
Once completed, the units will rent for prevailing market rates, Verbish said, without specifying an amount.
Friends and neighbors of the affected tenants have started a GoFundMe campaign to help with rental assistance, raising $5,975 since Sunday. Housing advocates, including former Mayor Brigette Mansell, have called on the city to intervene in the housing market, spending taxpayer money to preserve existing affordable units and speed the construction of new units. Some have also pushed for the imposition of local rent control.