Apartment Complex Sale Could Put Affordable Housing in East Palo Alto in Jeopardy

What happens to 2,500 families if a major property deal goes through?

What happens to 2,500 families if a major property deal goes through? That’s the concern from many East Palo Alto residents after hearing a local developer is on the verge of buying the largest block of rental housing in the city.

Renters say, historically, when owners change, so do their rents.

Woodland Park Apartment’s 1,800 units may soon change hands, from Chicago-based Equity Apartments to Palo Alto-based Sand Hill Property Company. The impending sale isn’t sitting well with those who have rent-stabilized rates.

“When they changed owners the first time, our rent went up by a lot,” Michele Gonzalez said, explaining her parents had to fight fee increases in the past. The family of four has been living in a one-bedroom apartment at Woodland Park for 10 years.

The complex has changed owners twice in the last decade. In one case, the tenants filed a class-action law suit alleging owners charged unlawful and extortionate fees.

Rosa Velasquez has been living at Woodland Park for six years and describes living conditions as “so-so,” saying the complex has its problems such as flooding, mold, noise and needles on the grounds.

“Our apartment had mold in the walls and they didn’t want to fix it. They moved us into another unit, but our old unit was rented out the next week. I don’t know if the new people know about the mold,” Velasquez said.

The mother of two says she feels stuck because of the sky-high price of Bay Area rents.

“Anywhere is going to be a lot more expensive than what we’re paying right now,” Velasquez said.

City leaders say protections are in place to keep rents from going up more than two percent this year.

“The tenants will be equally protected. That is not a concern,” East Palo Alto City Manager Carlos Martinez said, explaining he understands residents fear change.

Martinez says the City welcomes investment and hopes Sand Hill will improve the current living conditions without raising rents. Still, he says the City can’t control what a private company does with affordable housing units in the future.

“Well it’s not for us to keep it in the area or not. We don’t control that, but we hope it continues to be affordable,” Martinez said.

Sand Hill Property Company confirmed they are in talks to buy Woodland Park Apartments under a spin-off called Woodland Park Communities, but cannot comment during negotiations.

“Woodland Park Communities is a newly established company dedicated to acquiring and managing long-term, income generating, multi-family apartment complexes. Our intent is to continue to run the property in the same manner as it has been, honoring all rental contracts and the rent stabilization ordinance of the city,” chief investment officer Michael Kramer said in a statement to NBC Bay Area.

"We believe, if successful, our local team will serve the community well and we intend on working closely with our residents to ensure an attractive and well maintained asset.”

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