Isla Vista Rallies Behind Families

UCSB Students Weigh In

by Martha Sadler

Students have held fundraisers to pay for an attorney, marched through Isla Vista, and signed pledge cards promising not to rent from Conquest Student Housing, Inc., if the corporation’s eviction of 55 families from the Cedarwood Apartments  —  in order to create high-end student housing  —  goes through as planned. Doing business as a limited liability partnership called 6636 Picasso, Conquest distributed 30-day notices to the tenants at that address on August 25.

After creating 20 high-end student apartment complexes near the University of Southern California, Conquest recently turned its attention to UCSB, refurbishing a 96-unit apartment complex on Abrego Road last year. The Breakpointe complex includes a fitness center, complimentary Dish Network television service in each bedroom and living room, gated parking, and a nighttime security guard. According to Conquest’s Web site, it is the “first of many” prospective projects for the community adjacent to UCSB.

Student housing is increasingly scarce at UCSB, while enrollments continue to rise. Despite the crunch, UCSB senior Caitlin MacRae is part of a concerted student effort to slow or stop the eviction of working families from Isla Vista. Joel Rodriguez-Flores, the Associated Students Vice President for External Affairs, traveled to Los Angeles last week to seek help from an attorney who specializes in evictions. One of the few protections month-to-month tenants have is protection against discrimination; under state fair housing laws, kicking out the mostly Latino families who reside at Cedarwood and replacing them with primarily white students may be prohibited.

MacRae estimated that students had raised more than $2500 — during a barbecue and two house parties — toward an initial payment to secure the attorney’s services. “Yes, we need more student housing,” MacRae said. “But the situation won’t be helped by the construction of luxury complexes.” UCSB already bears the distinction of being the whitest campus in the UC system, and higher rents won’t help foster diversity, MacRae argued. Ultimately, MacRae said, she and other student activists would like Conquest to leave Isla Vista out of its plans entirely. MacRae was one of about 200 people who marched last Wednesday to the monthly meeting of I.V.’s Master Plan Planning Advisory Committee, taking her turn at the microphone to speak in favor of including working families in the community.

Meanwhile, County Supervisor Brooks Firestone, whose district encompasses Isla Vista, was recruited to help by the Isla Vista Tenants Union and other community organizations, including Clergy United for Economic Justice and PUEBLO. “Some have a right as a matter of law” to eviction notices longer than the 30 days they were given, Firestone said when contacted last week, “and the rest as a matter of common decency.” Tenants receiving federal assistance are legally entitled to 90 days’ notice. The developer’s attorney has since agreed to give tenants more time to relocate, on a case-by-case basis, according to Firestone.

UCSB is not the only local college whose students’ housing needs are putting pressure on surrounding neighborhoods. Six months ago, a company calling itself SB Core quietly started moving 74 families out of a complex on West Gutierrez Street, near Santa Barbara City College. The last four families are preparing to leave this week; virtually all of the evictees are Spanish-speaking immigrants.

SB Core is affiliated with Santa Monica-based Realty Center Management Inc., which has offices all over Southern California but until now had not ventured into the Santa Barbara market. SB Core gave its tenants a minimum of 90 days’ notice, emptying the five buildings one by one as it acquired financing for the project, which will be an apartment complex for students and young professionals, said SB Core owner-operator Shawn Mercer. Santa Barbara City College heavily recruits out-of-state and foreign students because they pay higher tuition than Californians.

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