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Farr West senior homeowners protest rent increases

From the Standard Examiner

FARR WEST — Carrying signs and armed with determination, residents of the Westwood Village active senior home community staged a rally Saturday, protesting rent increases they say threaten their economic security.

Richard Robinson, the community’s homeowners association chairman, said monthly rent has increased nearly $200 in the last decade, since Equity Lifestyle Properties purchased the community. According to a Westwood Village news release, the monthly rate will be raised $21 to $432 next year, up from $382 in 2010 and $249 in 2002.

Since many of the residents of the community, at 1111 N. 2000 West, have fixed incomes — often based on Social Security — the yearly rent hikes have priced some people out of their homes, Robinson said. One resident who spoke at the rally said that at age 72, she’s even had to go back to work just to keep her home.

“Many people have left Westwood, walking away from their homes.” Robinson said. “They couldn’t sell them or pay rent.”

While the rent increases would be tough to swallow under any circumstances, the protesters claimed ELS has not used the money appropriately, to maintain or improve the community, instead pocketing the profit. Robinson cited the example of the community’s sewer system, which he said is in such disrepair that it needs complete replacement.

Connie Waite said that when she moved in seven years ago, ELS agreed to fix her driveway, a promise that has gone unfulfilled. Many others at the protest shared similar concerns about the lack of return on their rising housing costs.

“For them to keep increasing the cost is really putting (a strain) on us,” Waite said. Myra Close, treasurer of the National Manufactured Homeowners Association, said price increases like the ones at Westwood Village are happening at communities owned by ELS all across the country. Many of those communities also held protests Saturday, a date that coincided with ELS Chairman Sam Zell being slated to speak over the weekend at a manufactured housing forum in Chicago.

Holding a sign that asked “How much is enough?” Annette Tittenser accused Zell of taking advantage of the people who live in the hundreds of communities across the nation ELS owns.

“Sam Zell touts himself as a great mogul with real estate developments,” she said. “But he makes his profit off peoples’ Social Security.”

Close said she’d love to discuss the issues with ELS, but so far attempts to do that have been met with resistance.

“We want to be able to sit down with ELS and talk with them,” she said. “We haven’t been able to do that.”

Calls to ELS seeking comment were not returned Saturday.