John Busch, the 82-year-old San Leandran who was evicted last year from his space at the Bayshore Commons mobile home park following his refusal to pay a large rent increase, has been a cause celebre for renters’ rights advocates in the city. When Busch did not leave the space, Alameda County sheriff’s deputy were summoned. Busch was arrested and spent the weekend before last Thanksgiving in jail.
The high-profile case in San Leandro has spurred on the City Council to move forward on a potential rent stabilization ordinance that is tailored solely for mobile home renters, many of whom are elderly and very low-income. Busch’s rent was increased 60 percent last year from $585 to $895, an additional cost he could not pay.
But during a council work session Monday night, a representative from Bayshore Commons defended their work in rehabbing the mobile home park. “I am very proud of what we’ve done,” said Matt Davies. “We’re being cast as a villain. It has hurt me to my core.”
In the year we’ve been waiting for somebody to do something, he lost it all.-San Leandro resident Jim Kelley said of John Busch, the 82-year-old mobile home renter evicted last November
Davies, sporting a short beard and man bun, said the park owners attempted to work out an amicable solution with Busch, but he repeatedly turned down their offers. “He didn’t want to be anything less than a martyr,” Davies told the council.
Several public speakers spoke in Busch’s defense, urging the council to speed up the legislative process. “In the year we’ve been waiting for somebody to do something, he lost it all,” San Leandro resident Jim Kelly said of Busch. Kelly, known for his musical talents at previous council meetings, sang Woody Guthrie’s folk classic, “I Ain’t Got No Home.”
Earlier, as Busch addressed the council and referenced his dissatisfaction with being arrested for resisting the eviction last November, a man sitting next to Davies muttered muttered he arrested “because it’s illegal.” Davies nodded in the affirmative.
Others believed to be associated with mobile home park owners, including Bill Mulgrew, the executive director of the landlord-backed Rental Housing Authority of Southern Alameda County, repeatedly scoffed at comments made by mobile home renters. Other times they wildly gyrated to what they believed were false assertions.
The public comments from the Bayshore Commons rep is likely to move councilmembers, many caught in the poor optics highlighted by Busch’s plight, toward enacting rent increase restrictions sooner than later.
San Leandro city staff proposed creating a mobile home rent stabilization ordinance that would limit annual rent hikes to no greater than five percent or the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). But a majority of the council voiced opposition to the five percent threshold. “It’s too high and I want to see it go down,” said San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter.
Newly elected Councilmember Victor Aguilar, Jr., who was backed by renters’ rights advocates, proposed a three percent maximum, and Councilmember Pete Ballew offered similar sentiment for a lower threshold because “CPI will never reach three percent,” he said.
Rising rents at mobile home parks is growing problem, primarily in Southern Alameda County. San Leandro has 885 mobile home spaces, with Mission Bay on Wicks Boulevard maintaining the most with 366 spaces. But a vast majority of the spaces are located in Fremont, Union City, Hayward, and unincorporated Alameda County.
Several councilmembers, including Corina Lopez and Ballew urged for a moratorium on rent increases over fears some mobile home park owners might use the likelihood of rent restrictions on the horizon to hike rents. “I don’t want there to be a window where some people see there might be a way to manipulate the process,” said Lopez. Councilmember Ed Hernandez and Aguilar also backed a short-term moratorium.
Despite a timeline created by city staff pegging a final rent ordinance for some time in this summer, San Leandro City Manager Jeff Kay assured the council a draft ordinance could be before them in March.