By Henrietta J. Burroughs
East Palo Alto Today
Posted May 11, 2010
As they usually did when they marched, the members of Youth United for Community Action (YUCA) attracted attention. Apartment residents looked at the group from their balconies, while the drivers of cars slowed to see what was taking place. This time, YUCA members were marching at the West Park Apartments at 5 Newell Court, one of the apartments that was owned by Page Mill Properties, the former owner of 1,800 rental apartments in East Palo Alto.
Now that Page Mill Properties declared bankruptcy and is no longer the largest owner of rental apartments in the city, YUCA members marched to celebrate the decision that was made by Wells Fargo Bank and Bridge Housing to roll back the rents for the tenants who occupy 400 of Page Mill’s former apartments. Before declaring bankruptcy in August 2009, when it missed a $50 million mortgage payment, Page Mill Properties had systematically raised rents at all of its East Palo Alto properties, which the company had purchased in 2007. During their ownership of the apartments, the company evicted hundreds of tenants who could not afford the increases.
At the YUCA rally, it was clear what the marchers wanted. They shouted, “Roll back, roll back, roll back the rents.” They wanted the decision to roll back the rents extended to all of the tenants occupying the remaining apartments that are now owned by Wells Fargo.
They said that the roll backs were just a first step in completing their mission to obtain affordable housing for all of East Palo Alto’s apartment dwellers. They said that YUCA would continue to fight until all the rents were rolled back to where they were before Page Mill Properties started raising the rents.
Arnold Hart, an East Palo Alto resident, who is a member of the city’s Rent Stabilization Board, told the marchers that they needed to attend the board’s meeting on Wednesday, May 12 and to also attend the upcoming East Palo Alto City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 18 to keep informed about ongoing events.
Hart said the city had negotiated a deal with Wells Fargo and the deal should be disclosed to all of the tenants. “We want to be included, not excluded,” he said.
Eugene White, a tenant who said that he had lived at 5 Newell Court for 8 years, expressed his frustration with the current state of his apartment. He said his apartment had not been painted in all of the time that he had lived there and it was infested with roaches.
After hearing him, the marchers started to shout, “Fumigate, fumigate. Roll back the rents, fumigate, put up a tent.”
Hart continued, “Together we stand, divided we fall. You need to be a part of this.” Following Hart, YUCA member Jessica Kirton invited everyone to join the group at the May 18 council meeting.
As the rally ended, James Turner and several other YUCA members passed out plastic glasses and sparkling cider to celebrate the fact that rent roll backs had started.