Chinatown Apartment Tenants Voice Concern Over Proposed Rent Increases

Residents of an affordable housing complex in Chinatown voiced concerns Friday over what they said are continued rent increases proposed by their landlord amid talks with the city aimed at preventing rent hikes.

Residents of the Hillside Villa Apartments said their landlord, Thomas Botz, proposed increasing their rent by $50 to $80 per month by Sunday, which residents said would be financially difficult.

The city loaned the property about $5.4 million in 1986 to keep rents low for 30 years. With that agreement expiring, City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo introduced a proposal in July to restructure the debt and extend the affordability covenants for another 10 years.

"The deal was all evictions are canceled and no more rent increases whatsoever," Rene AlexZander, president of the Hillside Villa Tenants Association, said at a Friday news conference outside City Hall.

Botz said, however, he has not received a formal contract from the city, but he is still working with city officials to keep rents subsidized.

"These are tenants who have been there forever and should be subsidized," Botz said. "The city has not (agreed to the money) that they said they would, and we're still talking regularly with the city, but there's no agreement as of now. And as far as (Cedillo's) motion, I requested in writing that he not proceed with it because it gives the impression that we had an agreement when we didn't."

Botz said the proposal on the table is for 10 years, and for the first few years, Hillside Villa would work to pay off debt it owes to the city. When at is exhausted, the city could look at further subsidies. He said of the 124 units at Hillside Villas, about 60 are subsidized and cost an average of $1,000 a month.

Botz said he's not backing away from the increases set for Sunday, mostly because they're the bare minimum increases the city allows.

"Those are in effect in a day or two," he said. "If there were a deal, then clearly there wouldn't be the increase," adding that his legal fees have increased trying to settle the matter.

AlexZander said the rents vary from person to person. Some people have lived there about 30 years and have been protected by the covenants, paying as little as $700 a month.

"They're senior citizens or disabled or something. I don't think someone in that position should be paying $2,000 for an apartment," AlexZander said. According to the tenants' group, Botz proposed rent increases in December ranging from $900 to $1,970.

Speaking to the City Council Friday, Cedillo disputed Botz' contention that an agreement had not been reached on the 10-year subsidy extension.

"We made a 10-year agreement with the owner with no rent increases and no displacements," Cedillo said. "I want to inform you that the owner has reneged on the agreement. This is not the first time that he's done this and he continues to play games on those tenants, and this is an agreement we all worked on."

Cedillo said he would be willing to go through the City Attorney's office or use whatever resources available to stop the rent increases.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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