“I’m paying $950 [for rent per month] there, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed [that it doesn’t go up],” said Cat Mendoza on August 26. She lives off of 44th Street in City Heights, just a couple blocks away from the “Know Your Tenants Rights/Conozca sus Derechos de Inquilino” meeting that she attended with three others.
“It’s increased from $700 [per month],” said Mendoza, 32, “and it’s comparatively lower than certain areas — but we still have a lot of stuff that needs to be fixed.”
She, like others in City Heights, have been coming to Rafael Bautista for advice regarding their rentals and their rights as tenants.
Bautista, also a lifelong City Heights resident, headed the 1–3 p.m. discussion last Saturday at 4010 Fairmount Avenue. He is a real estate broker and one of the founders of the San Diego Tenants United (SDTU), a group that started a petition to “implement rent control in San Diego” to be delivered to the San Diego City Council and the mayor’s office once its reaches 7500 votes.
“We are building a tenants’ union and a housing-rights movement,” he posted on his public invitation. “We are fighting to end homelessness, implement rent control, and end displacement. Join us as we supply our local communities with the knowledge they need and prepare them for the long struggle ahead with local abusive landlords, policies, and tactics they will face.”
One of the attendees, Gabriel Martinez, had to leave the meeting early. “I definitely think we need rent control in San Diego,” said Martinez, a 22-year-old UCSD political science student. “We are paying $1800 for our place in Chula Vista — that’s the cheapest place we could find."
Bautista took part in the Village Apartments protest in Linda Vista covered by the Reader last year.
"The [Village Apartments] were built maybe in the 1950s,” Bautista said. “Like old military housing with the same paint, same flooring. The windows wouldn’t close and some of them had holes — they were terrible.”
Bautista said the San Diego Socialist Campaign, International Socialist Organization, United Against Police Terror, Raices Sin Fronteras, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Collectivo Zapatista, and the National Action Network have helped guide the Linda Vista tenants’ fight for the improvements of their rentals located at 6948 Eastman Street.
They created demands on paper that were signed and delivered to the apartment management company.
“[The Village Apartments management company] responded on paper with what they were going to do,” he said. “But things weren’t fixed so fast.”
After a few protests "led by the tenants and SDTU" and a couple more meetings, contractors started repairing the units.
Recently, though, the tenants “started organizing because they were getting five months of late fees all at once. Management had changed the terms of the lease agreement and had changed due dates of their rent payments from the fifth of the month to the third,” Bautista said. “Most people didn’t even know until they got several months of late fees due at once. Some [tenants] got, like, $500 in dues out of the blue, and [that’s when] they contacted us.”
Bautista said he helped get the late fees rescinded but shortly thereafter the tenants received notices of rate increases. “[One increase was] from $1200 to $1600 to a tenant who was moved from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom because her unit was mold-infested.”
While Bautista was telling the Linda Vista story to the three individuals August 26, David M. walked in and joined the discussion. He had been present at a few of the Village Apartments meetings and protests.
“Those people [Village Apartments tenants] are driving the whole thing,” David said. “Seventy [tenants] with all of their kids come to the [property management] meetings.”
Bautista and David said this week they and other rent-control advocates expect to receive a notification from the Village Apartments management company on their proposed 2 percent rent increase every two years (approved by tenants).
“A lot of the stuff we are doing are like models,” Bautista said. “We want the tenants to develop over there so they can carry that [method of negotiation with their landlords] to the other buildings.”
While the “increase in rent has affected the displacement of homelessness” according to Bautista, it also has displaced other San Diegans.
Giovany Simiano and Paul are two former San Diego residents affected by rent increases. They couldn’t make it to Bautista’s meeting because they were a part of “the San Diego exodus.”
Simiano is an American graphic designer who used to live in Chula Vista. He moved his residence and business operation close to Playas de Tijuana.
“I got a four-bedroom house [with] two stories, a garage, and a patio for $450,” he said. “Our water bill is $25 a month and light [electricity] about $50 a month. Right now there are a lot of [American] people that work in San Diego and live here.”
Paul is a veteran who recently moved to Murrieta. “My rent [in Lakeside for a two-bedroom apartment] was increased from $995 [in 2015] to $1195 [in May].” He is now living with his brother, also a former San Diegan; they bought an almost-new 3000-square-foot home for under $400,000, “…which can buy a smaller and older house in Encanto,” he scoffed.
Bautista said “the cheapest San Diego rentals are in Encanto, and then City Heights.”
Bautista showed the group a sample of the rent-control petition sheet on which he had garnered about 700 handwritten signatures. His online petition had about 6200 signatures at press time. “We expect to reach our goal by November,” he said.
A copy of the list of demands that was given to Village Apartments management was passed out to the three attendees.
The next city Bautista is working on is further north. “We have a lawsuit against Encinitas,” he said. “Encinitas has fallen behind on implementing a housing plan that allows for low-income housing.”