A number of low-income tenants in a Ladera Street apartment complex received an unexpected 90-day eviction notice on April 4, stating that the property’s management will no longer participate in the Section 8 Housing Program.
There are currently 13 people under Section 8 subsidies living in the 28-unit complex, while the rest of the units are largely occupied by Santa Barbara City College students. The affected residents learned of their impending eviction shortly after returning to their apartments — all one-bedroom, one-bath — following renovations that forced many of them to move out for 2-3 weeks. The remodeling process began last July when the building was bought by Daniel Smith of San Clemente. He could not be reached for comment for this story.
Residents claimed they were not notified ahead of time that such renovations would take place. Dennis Banning, who has lived at 203 Ladera Street for about two years, said a crew of construction workers began showing up without warning last summer. “For the first four or five months, they were here 24/7,” said Banning, explaining tenants were irritated by the amount of dust and noise the construction created.
Residents said when the refurbishments started, new property manager Matthew Platler assured them that their tenancy was not in jeopardy. Platler also could not be reached for comment. “We were promised we weren’t going to have to move after the remodels,” said Eve Baker, who has lived at 203 Ladera Street for three years.
For many, the eviction notice means a jarring change of plans. Agnes Bishop, who has lived in the complex since 2003, said she was shocked. “Sometimes I cry,” said Bishop, who moved back in after the remodel for less than a week when she was served. “It’s really hard for us going out and in again.” Things are especially difficult for Bishop, a frail woman less than five feet tall who suffers from severe bowel complications that prevent her from doing much physical activity.
“This is after nine months of ‘don’t worry, we’re gonna take care of you,’” said Banning. “They’ve used us, and they’ve manipulated the Housing Authority.”
Rob Pearson, executive director and CEO of Santa Barbara’s Housing Authority, explained that although he was aware the Ladera residents would be temporarily moving during renovations, he, too, was surprised to discover the sudden release of Section 8 tenants from the property.
Pearson called Platler to confirm what was happening. The manager informed Pearson that Daniel Smith’s company, 203 Ladera Street LLC, planned to increase the rent, which he believed would exceed the amount that Section 8 tenants would be able to pay. Pearson expressed a desire to negotiate each individual tenant’s rent to determine how much more both the tenant and Housing Authority could pay. He also expressed concern to Platler over how the public would respond to the company’s handling of the situation.
“About an hour later, I get a screaming call from [Smith],” Pearson said. “He did not want to listen to me at all.”
Under the Section 8 Choice Voucher Program, tenants pay about one-third of their income in rent while the rest is paid by the Housing Authority, which is subsidized by the federal government. Pearson said that in the event the landlord raises rent, voucher holders can choose to pay up to 40 percent of their income.
But according to Pearson, Smith is demanding that the rent be increased to $1,495 per month, a jump of around $200-$300 per unit. Some Ladera residents say that the new monthly number is actually higher. “We don’t feel that rent is reasonable,” Pearson said. “I’m not sure that they can afford that.”
For now, Pearson said, it is the Housing Authority’s job to make sure the tenants find somewhere else to live. A landlord’s decision to terminate tenancy is beyond the Housing Authority’s control, he explained. “While they may be legally right,” he said, “they are not morally right in my mind.”
Some tenants have already begun looking for new homes. Others hope that some sort of agreement can be reached.