Reprieve for Modoc Road Evictees

Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Chris Meager
The Independent

Following a mediation session on Thursday, the owners of a Modoc
Road apartment complex apparently had mercy on the families they are
evicting from the complex in order to do a complete renovation of the
property. Now, the families will be allowed to remain in their homes
through the holiday season.

The initial eviction notice, which the more than 30 families that
lived at the Hillshore Gardens Apartments at 2541 Modoc Road received
October 12, came at the worst possible time, said the tenants, many of
whom are Hispanic, with family from Mexico. The families originally had
to leave their apartments on December 12, the day on which many Latino
Catholics celebrate the feast day of one of Mexico’s most central
religious icons, the Virgin of Guadalupe. And that’s not to mention the
fact the day falls less than two weeks before Christmas. On top of
that, the rental market was recently made that much tighter by the more
than 200 families in Santa Barbara and Montecito displaced by the Tea
Fire who are now seeking new homes.

The company that owns the complex, MRP Santa Barbara LLC, purchased
the property in early 2008 and has already received city approval to
renovate. New exterior finishes, roofing, windows and doors, lighting,
balconies, patios, and other additions are planned. The remodel was
approved by the Architectural Board of Review on September 2, and the
company obtained a building permit, according to city staff.

The owners have made it no mystery that they intend to raise the
price of the newly remodeled units, and with Hillshore property manager
Kevin Hansen being listed on Santa Barbara City College’s Web site as a
resource for students seeking housing as well as the property manager
of Student Residence Services, it appears the owners could be gearing
their housing toward a more specific demographic. Some other complexes
remodeled by the company have now been filled with students.

With affordable rental housing already at a premium, the problem
hasn’t been helped by City College, which, with 19,401 credit-seeking
students, has seen a “significant increase” in enrollment the last two
semesters. (In contrast, SBCC reported having 18,561 for-credit
students enrolled in fall 2007.) According to a spokesperson, the
economic downturn has driven people to community colleges for
retraining and new skills. The school doesn’t offer housing for its

While Dave Mercer, one of the owners, previously indicated the
renovation was already behind schedule and consequently didn’t seem
keen on further delays, something apparently changed at the mediation
session Thursday, though the exact agreement reached is confidential.
Neither Mercer nor Hansen returned phone calls.

But Belen Seara — executive director of advocacy group PUEBLO, which
helped organize the 23 evicted families for the mediation — said
families would be able to stay through the holidays and would “need
help for housing” by an unspecified date in late January.
Traditionally, a good deal of housing opens up in December and January
as a result of students’ end-of-semester move-out. It also appears that
a group of tenants who moved out from Hillshore Gardens on November 1
and who were originally denied their security deposits because they
didn’t give the landlord a 30-day notice will now get that money back.

Manuel Juarez has been raising his family at the complex for the
last 15 years. “It’s unjust to face eviction during the month of
December, especially with our children and their education,” he said
through a translator. “For us, it’s important to spend the holiday
season here. It will be difficult for us to find housing elsewhere.”
More than 90 children could have been impacted by the move. A vigil and
press conference were held in the weeks following the eviction notice
to bring awareness to the community.

The South Coast is no stranger to evictions by landlords looking for
increased rent. In 2006, the City Council denied an appeal that would
have kept the owners of apartments at 85 North La Cumbre Road from
demolishing their 10-unit apartment complex and replacing it with
upscale condos and one below-market unit. Resulting from that was the
tenant displacement assistance ordinance, which allowed tenants a
60-day notice before an application was filed, the right to terminate
the lease, and monetary assistance with relocation. Tenants would also
get the first right of refusal if new units were proposed. The same
month, Conquest Student Housing evicted 55 families from Isla Vista’s
Cedarwood apartments in favor of remodeling the units to attract higher
paying students. “This is an issue, as a community, we need to
address,” Seara said. “We have to figure out how to keep the low-income
community around.”

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