Our movement is driven by people who have seen what the housing crisis is doing to our communities and decided to do something about it. Our belief in building more housing as a key part of the solution is borne out not just by data and research but by our own members’ experiences with the power that comes with housing abundance. Below is one such story from member Scott Simmons.
My wife, my brother, and I share an apartment in Oakland. We like it here a lot. After a year of renting, we received the renewal letter from our landlord asking us to renew. The offer was to renew the lease at a very small increase from what we paid each month last year, something like fifty dollars more per month. At first, I thought that this wasn’t so bad, another fifty bucks a month isn’t ideal but hey rent in the Bay is expensive so maybe we should just be happy that it didn’t go up more?
Then I started checking to see if we should move. I found that there were a number of comparable apartments available that would work for us, and they were renting for much less. For the same amount that we were being offered in the renewal letter, the three of us could move to a two bedroom apartment in a much nicer and newer building in the same neighborhood. As kindly and as diplomatically as I could, I wrote an email to the landlord explaining that we liked it in our current place and didn’t want to move, but we just couldn’t agree to a new lease at the offered rate because of these other available options. I came up with a number that seemed reasonable for our rent, I subtracted about ten percent from that number for good measure, and I asked if it would be okay to renew our lease at that rate instead.
After sending the email, I was a little nervous. Was I ruining a positive relationship that let me live in a home and neighborhood that I loved? Was I being just plain rude? If the landlord replied that they would not accept a lower rate, should I agree to the slightly higher rent? What if doing this was so out of the ordinary that the offer to renew was taken back and we’d be forced to move?
But that didn’t happen. Our landlord is running a business, and they’re interested in making a profit from their investment. If we moved out they’d have to put money and effort into getting our place ready for someone else to rent, and they’d have to compete with those other available apartments. The landlord came back with an offer that was much more reasonable and we signed a lease to stay in Oakland for another year. In the end, our rent went down by eleven percent!
Ours is just one family’s experience. According to one source, median rents have been decreasing in the east bay since last summer due to an increase in available homes, but so far we haven’t seen that pressure applied to more affordable housing. I hope we keep building more housing for all income levels. The newer building in our neighborhood meant that my landlord had to negotiate our rent to a lower number, and that makes it easier for us to make ends meet. If that pressure weren’t there, staying in Oakland would mean moving to another more affordable apartment. That apartment would probably be in a new neighborhood, and it might mean that someone who isn’t as fortunate as we are would be forced to do the same thing that we did – go hunting for a new home somewhere else.