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Santa Rosa an unpredictable landlord

  • For the past six years, residents have lived virtually rent-free on the Walker Avenue property they sold in 2007 to the City of Santa Rosa for $750,000. The original sale terms allowed the family to live in the house for three years for $1 a year. (Kent Porter / PD)

Talk about affordable housing.

Kimberly Ortiz enjoys what most would consider an enviable rent for her home on 3 acres in southwest Santa Rosa.

She pays nothing.

For the past six years, Ortiz and her family have lived virtually rent-free on the Walker Avenue property they sold in 2007 to the City of Santa Rosa for $750,000.

The lease Ortiz signed after the sale allowed her and her family to remain in the modest home for three years for $1 per year.

But since the lease expired in 2010, the city hasn't figured out what to do with the property, and Ortiz and her family have gone right on living there for free.

“We've really appreciated it,” Ortiz said recently, noting that she suffers from health problems that prevent her from working.

The unusual arrangement is just the latest example of questionable below-market lease agreements that the city has on various residential properties it owns.

In June, it was revealed that two properties in Roseland purchased for a future park were being leased to caretakers for $100 and $200 per month, one of them to a city employee whose former boss, Marc Richardson, wasn't authorized to sign such agreements.

The Press Democrat recently reviewed all leases of structures on city-owned properties. In many cases, the leases covered well-known agreements with community groups.

For example, the city leases the Railroad Square Depot to the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau for $1 per year, and the bureau runs the historic building as a visitors center. A well-known food pantry on Benton Street and the community media center on Mendocino Avenue operate under similar no-cost leases.

But the review also found other lease arrangements where individuals appear to be renting residential properties for well below market rates.

In addition to the Walker Avenue lease, the city rents a 1-acre property on Occidental Road to a longtime city employee for $500 a month.

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