An estimated 400 people took to the streets of Redwood City and North Fair Oaks on Oct. 21 to protest evictions and rent spikes at a 48-unit apartment complex in North Fair Oaks that was bought in July by Los Angeles-based firm Trion Properties.
The property, located at 180 Buckingham Ave., was bought for $15.8 million. According to the Trion Properties website, the company plans to invest an additional $968,000 to renovate the place.
As reported in the Silicon Valley Business Journal, "average rents for a one-bedroom in Buckingham are currently $1,670. Post-renovation, the company expects that to rise to $2,400."
Many of the people who attended the march were showing support for the tenants at the apartment complex and didn't live there themselves. The marchers met at the Siena Youth Center and walked through the streets of Redwood City and North Fair Oaks repeating phrases such as: "Esta es nuestra casa. A donde vamos a ir?" (This is our home. Where are we going to go?), or "Hear our cry, rents too high!"
People had different reasons for participating in the march.
Menlo Park resident Jose Gamez says he wants local authorities to see the extent of people's concern about affordable housing. He said he is not under immediate threat of displacement, but does now pay more than 50 percent of his income on rent. He worries about what could happen if the property he rents falls into ownership of people seeking greater profits.
Deborah Kemper, who works for the San Mateo County Bar Association, was there marching with a group from her church, Trinity Presbyterian in San Carlos. "I see growth in Redwood City coming at a huge price for those living and working here," she said. She said she's not sure what the county should do, but added, "I know having families with small kids sleeping in cars is not the answer."
Tom Linerbarger, an Emerald Hills resident, said he came out because "rents are going through the roof." He said he bought his first house for $12,000 in North Fair Oaks, but today, that's maybe two months' rent.
Several renters who live in Redwood City or North Fair Oaks also talked about their worries about housing affordability.
Redwood City resident Gaiane Villemaire, who is deaf, had her comments translated by her daughter, Lisette. According to Lisette, Ms. Villemaire came to the march because she's a single mom with a low income. She feels she needs a raise to be able to afford to live here, or have her rent lowered.
Twelve-year-old Jimena, who lives in Redwood City, explained that high rent affects her classmates. Many students have to ask for outside help to be able to afford field trip fees, she said. "(It's) not being fair to us as a community," she said.
A cultural district
Despite the rising cost of rent, however, some families are more committed than ever to staying in the area. One reason is the strong Latino community. According to Rafael Avendano, council member of the North Fair Oaks Community Council and program director at the Siena Youth Center, the nickname for North Fair Oaks in the community, is "Little Michoacan," after a southwestern state in Mexico. The area has residents from not only Mexico, but El Salvador, Argentina, Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. For that reason, Mr. Avendano said, the county should consider giving North Fair Oaks recognition as a cultural district.
The county should also fund programs that protect affordable housing in the community, he said.
The Huerta family is one that appears committed to staying local. Mayra Huerta has lived in Redwood City for about 26 years since she immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.
Ms. Huerta says she's worried about what a rent increase could mean for her family. Some of her friends live in the apartments at Buckingham Avenue, and others have already moved away as far as Modesto and Fresno. "We don't want to move out," she said.
Ms. Huerta is currently studying for her GED at Sequoia District Adult School, and her husband is the sole breadwinner in the household. To pay for rent and college tuition for their daughter attending U.C. Merced, she said, her husband often works extra hours. She was proud to say, however, that through careful saving, the family was able to send their college student to Paris to study for a semester.
Her daughter in college has advised the family not to move, she said. The daughter's arguments were that there's more pollution in the Central Valley, which could trigger asthma problems, and the schools are better here for her little sister, Aryam.
Aryam, who said she is 8 years old, was also participating in the march. She dances in a local Mexican folk dancing group and had found out earlier that day that she made the honor roll at her school.
"Redwood City is the best," Ms. Huerta said. When asked why, her answer was simple: "the beautiful clime and the beautiful people."