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.