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Rent Adjustment Program annual report draws criticism

on December 18, 2013

The number of petitions and applications filed to the Rent Adjustment Program (RAP) rose by less than 6 percent last fiscal year, a steep drop from the year before that drew criticism from community members who said poor outreach is partly to blame.

The number of petitions rose by 5.7 percent, from 389 to 411, during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, according the program’s annual report.

The report, which was presented to Oakland City council members in the Community and Economic Development committee Tuesday afternoon, elicited several recommendations along with criticisms.

RAP provides mediation services for disputes between landlord and tenant regarding rent increases and evictions. For the latest fiscal year, RAP resolved cases in favor of landlords 41 percent of the time, and tenants, 46 percent. Last year, landlords only won 31 percent of the cases.

Of the 411 petitions filed, 219 listed an alleged unjustified increase in rent, and 204 claimed there was a decrease in housing services. This year’s increase was well off last year’s increase of 71 percent, which came after low numbers from 2009-2011, when a little over 200 petitions were filed.

“One of the flaws of this report is that outreach is crummy,” said Eddie Eduarde, a member of the Oakland Tenants Union. Eduarde noted that communication is poor not just with residents, but with the Rent Board, which hears RAP appeals. The board was unaware of the RAP report during its meetings last week.

RAP program manager Connie Taylor said she plans to review the report with the board at a later date.

The problem of outreach was also touched upon by District 3 resident Brian Geyser during public comment.

“The very small numbers (of petitions) in here are indicative of how few people really know of this procedure,” Geyser said.

Councilwoman Libby Schaaf asked Taylor how RAP makes itself available to the public. Throughout the year, RAP talked to 10,619 residents. Of that number, only 165 contacts were through email, according to the report.

“The thing that really struck me in this report is that you only had 165 emails inquiries in a year. I get that many emails practically in a day,” Schaaf said. “This was a big alarm that you were not communicating out, or doing outreach through email.”

“The RAP can engage more in outreach,” Taylor said, adding that people who emailed her probably found her email online, since she does not often hand out her business cards. There is no general email for RAP on the site or a way for residents to fill out forms online.

Council member Lynette McElhaney also asked for RAP to increase its outreach efforts. Taylor acknowledged that the goal of 12 outreach activities for the year was not met; RAP only held nine outreach events since July 2012, she said.

Image: For rent sign. Image by Flickr user Ashley Brown, under a Creative Commons License.

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