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When rent exceeds income
December 28, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Ron and Jeanne Berg have seen their rent climb 99 percent at the Hillsdale Garden Apartments since 2006 after a corporate buyer bought the 697-unit complex from the McCarthy family, who owned the property for 50 years.

They currently pay $1,791 a month for their two-bedroom apartment, one they have leased for decades, but only bring in about $1,555 a month in government subsidies.

In 2006, the couple paid just $900 a month for the same unit but expect when their current lease expires at the end of January, the rent will go past the $2,000 mark, far beyond the couple’s reach.

Both have disabilities and Jeanne, 70, is totally blind. She’s lived at Hillsdale Garden Apartments her entire adult life and simply does not want to move.

Even if they did want to move, they couldn’t afford first and last month’s rent, plus deposit and the cost to move all their belongings, she said.

Last week, she, with her husband by her side, spoke in front of the San Mateo Planning Commission to decry the rent increases.

"It is not just about Ron and I but everyone in the county who faces this reality,” Berg said.

A film crew has been documenting the couple’s lives this past year and was on hand when the Bergs spoke to the commission last week. They plan to also address the San Mateo City Council and ultimately the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks on the plight of the elderly and disabled who live on a fixed income as rents in the area continue to climb.

"We can’t handle the rent increases,” Berg said.

They have previously fended off eviction with the help of the Legal Aid Society and will likely call on the agency’s services again if they are unable to pay the rent in February.

San Mateo County does not have rent control except in portions of East Palo Alto, and Essex Property Trust, the owner of Hillsdale Garden Apartments, have made vast improvements to the property since buying it six years ago.

But fresh paint and new landscaping do not justify the rent increases for the Bergs.

"Someone has got to do something. The county or city. The rent increases are beyond those on a fixed income,” Berg said.

Without the help of Meals on Wheels and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Berg said she wouldn’t know how her and her husband could survive.

"We’re just existing,” she said.

Hillsdale Garden Apartments consists of 47 buildings on more than 30 acres and is the largest rental property in San Mateo.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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