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Redwood City renters ask city council for help with landlord negligence

Activists presented their own "innovative housing" ordinance at the June 26 meeting

A group of more than 30 demonstrators congregated in front of City Hall before taking to the podium at the Monday, June 26, city council meeting to bring attention to landlord negligence, promoting a draft ordinance that they say would help prevent it.

The group was led by Faith In Action, a local advocacy organization that has been penning the ordinance for over two years. It aims to bar landlords from mistreating and intimidating Redwood City's renters — many of whom are Spanish-speaking and low income.

The draft ordinance requires landlords to "exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance," and bars landlords from "influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion." Advocates say 10 other Bay Area cities already have similar ordinances in place, including San Francisco and East Palo Alto. 

Demonstrators made their presence known before speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, holding signs inside the council chambers showing photos of unsafe living conditions in their rental units. Some showed photos of mold that had been left untreated. Each council member was handed a paper copy of the draft ordinance.

"Our homes are sacred. We deserve to live in decent, healthy homes where we can center and strengthen ourselves to continue creating a city that welcomes everyone. Two years have already passed since we started this process, and our community continues to be displaced from our city," Trinidad Villagomez, an organizer with Faith In Action, told council members.

The ordinance seeks to protect renters like Nieves Pacheco, who has been a renter in District 5 for 21 years. Pacheco has experienced issues with mold, rat infestation and other unsafe living conditions in her unit and said much of the maintenance has come out of her own pocket, or she has been told to resolve problems herself. 

"We, in the community of this city, are suffering from abuse, evictions and indecent housing. When we request a necessary repair, they do not do it. We have been doing repairs on our own part, on our own money. We changed the carpet ourselves because we couldn't live with breathing in the bad smell," Pacheco told council members. 

Pacheco said her fridge did not work for three years, and when she initially called to have it fixed, Pacheco said she was told to "Google" how to repair it herself. 

"The experience has been frustrating because we have done the city's work for the city. Last year, they passed two of the policies we proposed but they haven't yet implemented them. I believe implementing them is an emergency because the community is living in deplorable conditions," Pacheco said.

Magdelena Lara, an organizer with Faith In Action and a mobile home renter in Redwood City's Bayshore Villa, said she feels lied to and deceived by her landlord, who often doesn't follow through on repairs. 

"We are fighting so that we are no longer told that [our landlords] won't repair something, and to put a stop to the lies, the deceit when they tell us to 'hold on,' so that they can fix it, but when we come back they say, 'The rent is higher now and if you don't like it then go somewhere else," said Lara.

Lara noted that one of Faith In Action's current initiatives is creating a local office where people can learn about their rights and ask the city for support. 

This isn't the first time that Faith In Action has gone to the city council to bring attention to issues with landlord negligence. In June 2022, housing advocates gathered in front of city hall to show their support for an anti-displacement strategy ahead of its passage. 

Redwood City adopted the strategy after two years of research and community outreach. According to the City, it is intended to serve as a "policy roadmap" to protect affordable housing for the city's moderate and low-income renters. 

Implementation of the ADS is on a four-year timeframe, and its protections are slated to take effect in early 2024. According to the city, the delays are due in part to short staffing.

Linda Goldman, an attorney and Redwood City resident, said she is proud that the city has been a "leader" on housing issues, but there is still a gap when it comes to protecting renters from harassment.

"These study sessions are taking far too long and people are suffering and being displaced in the meantime. We know that most landlords strive to be good community members and treat their tenants with dignity," Goldman said. "But as we've heard at many focus groups, city council meetings and study sessions over the past 2 years, tenants in our community are being illegally harassed and subjected to unsafe living conditions. This has been a problem in Redwood City since before the pandemic and continues today."

The city released a community survey on rental housing policies that is open to the public through Wednesday, July 5. Input from the survey will be included in a study session presentation ahead of the regularly scheduled council meeting on Aug. 28. 

"I am being honest when I say that I think [council members] are not opening their ears fully. And it's frustrating to only get 30 seconds to be able to express all of our needs. But I hope I'm wrong, and I hope that they were really listening to our pleas," said Pacheco. 


Avery Luke

About the Author: Avery Luke

Avery Luke, a Los Altos native, is a reporter at the Redwood City Pulse. She was formerly a reporter at KPFA Radio in Berkeley. Avery is also a newscast writer at KTVU FOX 2 and holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago.
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