Residents of Hotel Petaluma are pondering a variety of outcomes as the hotel's owners pursue a change from single occupancy room leasing to a more traditional hotel rental policy.
While many residents have found new housing, and others have opted to stay on under the new, costlier nightly rates, some occupants haven't yet arrived at a plan of action. One group, Sonoma County Solidarity Network, is organizing protests, such as a picket held Wednesday, while another, the community based human services provider Petaluma People Services Center (PPSC), has been helping residents to understand their rights and options under the law.
According to Elece Hempel, Executive Director of PPSC, "every situation has to be approached on a case by case basis."
PPSC runs the renter's rights program for Sonoma County and has been involved in housing issues at the hotel on a number of occasions. In fact, Hempel said, the hotel's current owner, Terry Andrews, received landlord education and information from PPSC Housing Specialists after he purchased the historic but rundown hotel in October. PPSC offers classes to landlords that cover "what's fair, and just, and how to follow the rules," explained Hempel.
"Most landlords don't like to be told what to do," Hempel added, "but we explain to them the ramifications of not complying with the law and they usually see the benefits of working within that framework." According to Hempel, Andrews was no exception.
PPSC staff has made several trips to meet with residents of the hotel to help them understand their options. Some residents qualify for low-income housing, but many do not. PPSC also offers a rental assistance program, providing first and last months rents for those who qualify. So far, said Hempel, "only a handful of the hotel residents have come in to apply."
PPSC has also referred several residents to PEP Housing, a nonprofit dedicated to providing quality affordable housing. So far, PEP has only had a few inquiries.
Some of the residents are already dealing with health or financial issues, Hempel explains, and the 30- and 60-day notices to vacate they received from hotel management only compounded those existing challenges.
In one case, PPSC is helping a resident by recruiting volunteers to help him move his belongings into new housing and coordinating with Joseph Rye of Petaluma Transit to help facilitate transportation to medical appointments in Napa using existing paratransit programs.
Meanwhile, Carl Patrick of the Sonoma County Solidarity Network (SCSN), a workers and tenants rights group connected with Occupy Santa Rosa, says the group got involved when tenants reached out in late February.