At Tuesday night’s Davis City Council meeting, roughly 50 residents of the facility came to city council to express their support of the council to intervene on their behalf.
Supervisor Mariko Yamada who has been at the forefront of advocacy for seniors and senior living issues spoke before the council:
“I not only want to express support for the council’s efforts to look into this matter, county will certainly be a partner with you in that. In fact they did meet with the resident’s association immediately after the first news report of first the eight percent increase but then learning it has been a double digit increase over the past two years. This is part of a larger corporate issue I think in terms of how seniors are housed in our communities. Atria is a national corporation, there are issues arising, problems with Atria nationwide. But it also speaks to other housing needs for seniors, at the county level we are bringing home a study on rent stabilization for manufactured home parks, as well as taking a look at other facilities such as CCRC’s (Community Care Retirement Centers)… But I also think we need to take a look at senior housing needs throughout the area.”
Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek urged the council to take immediate action–if it was within the realm of the law and expressed a willingness to meet during the holidays in order to accomplish this.
“I’m in town [next week] If staff gave us a place, I’d be happy to act before the end of the year because it is of an urgent nature, I mean your rent increases kick in at the beginning of January. And I say that sincerely because I think we can talk about doing things on a long range calendar… but I understand you would like some immediate attention and I hope that I can be part of a solution on an immediate basis.”
Mayor Sue Greenwald also indicated a willingness to act immediately:
“Why don’t we authorize Harriet [Steiner] to look into our legal options and if there are option, why don’t we ask Bill [Emlen] to schedule an emergency meeting.”
Councilmember Don Saylor indicated that neither he nor two of his colleagues would be in town during this time:
“I think there will be two of you in town during that time…”
He also expressed reticence to act immediately even if he were in town.
“Like everybody, I think we’re all touched, nobody likes this situation and we’re very touched by the presence of the people in the room tonight. But I think we have to act within the bounds of what we can do and be clear about that. While it’s possible that we could be the first city in the state, or one of the first, to implement a rent control mechanism, it’s not likely. And it’s not going to happen in the next couple of weeks. I think that we ought to be looking at the things that we can do and working with the management of Atria to try to get them to participate in a voluntary mediation has potential, it’s possible. I don’t know if it’s going to be successful. But it’s certainly worth trying… So I think we should do the things we can, within the authority we have, and test the bounds by exploration. But I don’t think we can do something within the next few weeks, no matter what we do.”
Michelle Reardon, who sits on the Social Services Commission and also practices in geriatric counseling, suggested there may be little a local entity can do at this point. She expressed regrets that Atria was licensed by the Department of Social Services to be a Residential Care Facility for the Elderly. Once licensed she believed that the state and not the city had jurisdiction over “rent.”
This brings forward a larger issue of about Senior Care Facilities and licensing. A quick search for Atria finds a troubled organization with a wide array of complaints against it.
Channel 13 in Sacramento reports on a residential protest at an Atria facility in Sacramento.
“Nobody at this senior home wants to go, they just don’t know if they can afford to stay. They were told that their rents were being raised, the residents got together and figured out that the increases range from six up to eleven percent.
Arthur’s rent is increasing more than $4,000 next year.
The reason they’ve been given was that the building is riddled with dry rot, but residents don’t believe that’s financial burden to bear.
Some increase is expected, three or four percent is average at other homes. But, the overall feeling here is that management is unfairly taking money these people spent their lives saving.”
In the meantime, Atria faces federal investigations for the violations of workers’ rights:
“At facilities around the country, Atria is now facing a large number of federal investigations over charges that the company violated federal labor law, including threatening, intimidating, spying on, and otherwise violating the rights of employees who have been active in forming a union for improvements at their facilities”
And when workers at these care facilities has attempted to unionize, Atria has resorted to standard intimidation, harassment, and disciplining of workers.
“I was fired because I want a voice on the job. Atria needs to listen to workers so that residents get the care, staffing, and services they deserve. We’re forming a union for a voice in care for residents and working conditions for workers,” said Radika Munna, a former employee at Atria Senior Living, during a candlelight vigil where community leaders gathered to support workers who have been harassed for their efforts to improve conditions for workers and residents by forming a union at Atria Shaker in Lynbrook, New York.
These complaints bring up the question of who licenses these facilities and how local communities and counties can insure that when they provide for Senior Housing, that these provisions are met in a responsible manner. Local governments should not lose control of their authority once they grant building permits and zoning changes. How does a community like Davis, insure that once they provide these facilities, that their residents receive the type of care, attention, and affordability that they deserve?
Obviously this is a much broader question than can be addressed now. But it is imperative that the City of Davis along with Yolo County and other advocacy groups look at what is happening nationwide with companies like Atria and take steps to insure that this never happens again.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting