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City: Don't Raise Rent On Low-Income Apartments

Cottonwood Creek's green amenities haven't been saving as much money as builders had thought

The agency that runs the Cottonwood Creek low income apartments on Railroad Avenue will have to find a way to close a $33,000 budget gap without getting the city to approve raising the rent, the Suisun City Council declared this week.

BRIDGE Housing had asked for the ability to raise the rent on some units by up to 2.5 percent in order to make up the budget gap. The city's redevelopment agency's approval was viewed as a less restrictive way to raise the rent, according to a city staff report.

In the 2006, the city's redevelopment agency provided BRIDGE Housing with a $7.95 million dollar loan to construct the 94-unit Cottonwood Creek, which was built in 2008 with solar power amenities to control the cost of utilities. The Cottonwood Creek yearly take is roughly $775,000, according to figures provided to the city council, but city staff said the apartment complex's operating budget was only $144,000.

Joanna Young, a representative from BRIDGE, told the council that anticipated benefits from green building amenities like the solar panels didn't defray utility costs as much as a consultant anticipated.

Mayor Pete Sanchez was especially critical of the information provided to the council.

"It's hard to make a decision based on a two-sentence write up," he said, later declaring that even though he would ask questions of BRDIGE representative Joanna Young, his mind was made up not to approve the rent increase.

Young said BRIDGE had cut costs everywhere it could to avoid a rent increase.

City Councilman Mike Hudson asked why BRIDGE has a higher utility bill when the summer was comparatively mild.

Councilman Mike Segala said he agreed with Sanchez.

"I don't have any baseline information to justify this increase," he said. "… I don't have any baseline information. I like statistics."

Councilwoman Jane Day said she brought the issue before the council because she supported Cottonwood Creek.

"This is a really, really lovely thing that we've added to our city," she said, warning that it would go downhill if the council did not give BRIDGE the means to support it.

Sanchez suggested BRDIGE find ways to cut expenses just as the city and the county have had to do. Hudson warned PG&E would likely raise the cost of electricity next year "like clockwork."

Although Day's motion for the rent increase died for a lack of a second, Segala suggested BRIDGE come back with better numbers for the council to look at.

"I want numbers," he said. "I want to take a look at that solar installation. I want to see the biggest picture possible … if I ever submitted a bill to a customer where the second highest thing on it was 'miscellaneous' I'd have been out of business years ago."

Young said BRIDGE would find a way to carry on.

"We will be squeezed, but I believe we will get through," she said, saying they didn't have good data the first year to make a good budget. "We will fight on our end with our consultant to try to keep costs lower."

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