Santa Paula Times

SP West rents hiked just $2.31 a month as Commission rejects owner, city figures

September 24, 2003
Santa Paula News

The owner wanted space rent at Santa Paula West Mobile Home Park to be raised by about $268 a month and a city study recommended $111, but on a split vote the city’s Rent Review Commission allowed a scant $2.31 a month increase.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesThe owner wanted space rent at Santa Paula West Mobile Home Park to be raised by about $268 a month and a city study recommended $111, but on a split vote the city’s Rent Review Commission allowed a scant $2.31 a month increase.The vote came after an almost four-hour long hearing that drew hundreds of residents and supporters to the Community Center on Sept. 16th.The hearing had been rescheduled from January.Residents of the park told Mobile Home Rent Review Commissioners Timothy Hicks, Shirlee O’Malley and Carmita Wood that the rents at Santa Paula West are already among the highest in the city and disputed the basis of the increase sought by SP West, LLC.The city sponsored an analysis report to “determine an allowable rent adjustment and implementation schedule,” that would “balance the needs of residents” against the owner’s fair rate of return on the investment, said city consultant Sonia Seeman.The owner is receiving a return of 5.4 percent to 6.3 percent, noted Dr. James Gibson of NewPoint Group Management Consultants, who recommended that a $111.47 monthly increase would provide the owner with a fair return as mandated under state and federal constitutional law.The increase would also have to be spread over several years so as not to violate city ordinance and the report noted that “we recognize that this increase places SP West’s rents way over the top for rents in this city. . .”Commissioners had to contend with reports inches thick as well as the testimony of residents and the attorneys and consultants representing SPW LLC.Attorney Jack Schwartz, representing the park owner, said although the initial request for a rent request had been scaled back, the recommendation would be acceptable and lower-income residents could be subject to less rent increases on a “one-to-one” basis.The figures submitted by the park owner do not “seem kosher,” said tenant representative Richard Weinstock, an attorney.Weinstock said the basis of the studies urging a large rent increase are flawed and that commissioners are “entitled to come to your own conclusions” regarding any increases.
Resident Richard Hughes, a leader of the opposition, said the requested increase is “unjust and exorbitant” and that tenants’ “hopes for a modest, affordable life are dashed” by the proposed increase which, if approved, would impact the city’s stock of affordable housing.Hughes questioned changes in the financial reports and the issue of fair return: “Consider the economic climate we’re in right now. . .an 8 percent return is a stellar performance” compared to stock market losses and dipping CD and money market interest rates.Julie Howard questioned park comparisons, noting that the rent of a Camarillo park cited in a report includes all utilities except telephone.“Where would seniors get a fair income return of 9.6 percent on Social Security?” asked Edna West.Former City Councilwoman Laura Flores Espinosa, who lives in SP West adjacent Las Pasadas and is a member of the Ventura County Mobile Home Rent Review Commission, said the city’s ordinance is “convoluted.” Raising rents would pit the city against its own Housing Element, General Plan and state mandates for affordable housing, she noted.Tenants questioned park maintenance, rent comparisons to other area parks, and lack of children play space, and actual rent profit, among other issues.Hicks asked one speaker about the cost of a mobile home as added to park rent and resident Lynda Gruber suggested that park tenants be reimbursed for past increases.After a brief discussion commissioners voted 2-1 with Hicks casting the lone nay vote, to raise the rent an average of $2.31 per month.“. . .the way the situation is today in this country,” with rising employment and diminishing wages, “I think 6.4 percent is fair,” said Wood.“We’re elated at this decision and the humanity of the commission,” said Hughes after the meeting. “Their compassion and understanding was outstanding.”“I’m glad to get my husband back,” noted Mary Hughes.