A loophole in Alameda’s recently enacted just-cause ordinance was closed Tuesday night after the City Council approved an urgency ordinance that adds the same protections to low-income Section 8 recipients. The council also voted to extend tenant relocation payments to Section 8 renters in cases when the landlord decides to move into the unit or remove it entirely from the housing market.
But the impetus for Tuesday night’s urgency legislation was the case of Musiy Rishin, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor on Section 8 who is being evicted from his apartment on Shore Line Drive in Alameda. The eviction made national and worldwide news after Rishin’s story was published in The Guardian.
Please help me stay in my home.-Alameda renter Musiy Rishin
In the article, the landlords, both living in Arizona, said the decision to evict Rishin was made to boost their rental income. “I’m not a monster. I’m not a greedy landlord, but I do want to make money when I’m legally able to,” Margaret Tam, the owner of The Dunes apartments, told The Guardian.
The just-cause ordinance, long-sought by Alameda renters’ groups, was approved last March. Under the ordinance, landlords can only evict tenants for specific causes, such as habitual non-payment of rent and criminal conduct, among a number of reasons.
But while, most segments of Alameda’s rental market was covered under the new just-cause protections, they were not extended to Section 8 renters, who tend to be older and often on disability.
The decision to exclude Section 8 from the previous ordinance was due to concerns from the Alameda Housing Authority, said Debbie Potter, director of community development.
Currently, 75 renters with Section 8 vouchers are seeking housing in Alameda, Potter said. The fear was that just-cause protections could depress interests for landlords to accept people on Section 8, she added.
Walking gingerly to the lectern Tuesday night, Rishin pleaded for the council’s help. “It is cruel and wrong,” Rishin said, adding that he has lived in the unit for 17 years and pays his rent on time. ”They say in America that your home is sacred,” Rishin said. “Please help me stay in my home.”
“I’m sorry there was a loophole,” Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie said. He added that a number of Alameda landlords also found the attempt to evict the elderly renter abhorrent.
Councilmember Tony Daysog voted against the emergency ordinance, in addition, to three other related housing items on the agenda Tuesday night.
“We’re right to feel for the plight of the Rishin family and right in our anger for large complexes like The Dunes. We should be moved by our hearts and our heads,” Daysog said, before adding, “It is not City Hall’s place to make unilateral dictates.”
There is a sense among public officials that the publicity over the Rishin case will trigger more cases of Section 8 abuses to come forward. “I don’t want a period of time for people to continue to discriminate,” Councilmember Malia Vella said, speaking in favor of the urgency ordinance. “This is about protecting our most vulnerable,” she added. “It’s why we have these ordinances in place.”