ASK FINNEY: Landlords raising rent, options for fixed-income seniors, and exactly what is considered 'low-income' housing

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As a part of our Building a Better Bay Area week centered on housing issues in the Bay Area, Michael Finney is here to answer your #askfinney questions all about finding a place to live!

Rita says, "My landlord wants to raise my rent by $500. Is that legal?"

Probably -- it depends where you live. Several Bay Area cities do have rent control ordinances, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose. Most smaller cities do not have rent control, so state law applies. And state law allows unlimited rent increases. However, if you're on a month-to-month lease, the landlord must give you at least 30 days' notice before raising your rent, and if you're in the middle of a longer lease, landlords cannot change the terms and suddenly raise your rent.

Marje asks, "What options are available for retirees on a fixed income?"

Retirees can get housing assistance through HUD. It offers programs including help with reverse mortgages, home buying and subsidized rents. Your county office of community development also can steer you to federally subsidized apartments for seniors. Typically, to qualify you must be 62 or older with a "very low income." In Alameda County for example that means a single person earning about $35,000 per year. You can find tons of information at hud.gov or at your county's community development office.

Amanda writes, "Everyone's talking about low-income housing. What qualifies as low income and what about those stuck in the middle?"

The bad news is everything is expensive in the Bay Area. The good news is you can earn more and still qualify as a low- or middle-income resident. Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development raised the low-income threshhold. In San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin, a family of four earning $117,000 a year qualifies as "low income." In Alameda County the cutoff is $89,000. Each city or county sets rules on who is eligible for below market rate housing. It can vary by project. Check with your county's community development office to see if you qualify




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