Wednesday, July 30, 2008

East Palo Alto Tenants Are Fighting Back

It's inspiring to see what's happening in the community of East Palo Alto right now. This rent control city is under attack by a predatory real estate investor but the people are fighting back and they're proving they have the solidarity, ingenuity, skills and determination to win.

Last Saturday the Fair Rent Now Coalition launched a petition drive with an extraordinarily well-planned and well-run event. A similar event will be held again this coming Saturday, August 2nd. The petitions being gathered for submission to the Rent Stabilization Board are not mere lists of signatures, but rather they are detailed individual complaints with sworn legal statements and all the required documentation -- including leases, rent increase notices, and proof of payment -- needed to prove the illegality of Page Mill's rent hikes.

Unknown-5.jpegThe Fair Rent now Coalition set up an elaborate "petition clinic" for a smooth and efficient process complete with computer-automated petition processing center

Prior to the event, organizations within the Coalition such as the Family Center, Nuestra Casa, and Youth United for Community Action (YUCA), spent days canvassing in the community to let Page Mill tenants know about their rights under the rent control ordinance and to let them know about the petition drive. Once tenants arrived at the event, they found a brilliantly conceived "petition clinic" set up in the yard of a local non-profit, complete with childcare, a greeting and copy station, a waiting area, an computer-automated petition processing center, and a legal center. If this operation was any indication of what Page Mill is up against (and believe me it is) then they are in for a lot more than they bargained for.

Wanting to make certain that the petition gathering went smoothly and that the complaints gathered would meet all necessary legal standards, organizers met with lawyers from EPA's Stanford Community Law Clinic. Together they created an online petition form that could be used by volunteers to gather all the necessary information from the tenants and which could automatically calculate the maximum allowable rent. Once the tenants and volunteer assistants finished filling out the online form, the clever system printed out completed petitions with precise legal language as well as letters to the Page Mill CEO spelling out the disparities between the legal rent and the rent charged by Page Mill. All of this was created from scratch by some tech-savvy members of the coalition. Any community needing to put on a similar petition drive should definitely get in touch with these folks for pointers.


The petition gathering is just one piece in the community's fight against Page Mill Properties. A couple of weeks ago a class action suit was filed seeking injunctive relief for tenants affected by Page Mill's attempts to use sham LLCs to evade the rent control laws. Prior to that the Rent Stabilization Board voted to tighten up its rules and regulations to help thwart some of Page Mill's abuses and starting this Friday at 4:00 PM, YUCA will launch its "First of the Month" Actions which they will hold each month until Page Mill adandons these outrageous rent increases. The initial event will be a large and spirited rally outside the Page Mill Properties Headquarters in neighboring Palo Alto. Contact YUCA for more information at (650) 322-9165.



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