The courtyard of the Hillshore Gardens apartments at 2541 Modoc Road was filled last night during a press conference held by the Santa Barbara-based immigrant advocacy organization PUEBLO (People United for Economic Justice and Building Leadership through Organizing). The event was organized to give a voice to more than 35 families who were served eviction notices on the eve of the holiday season.
On October 12, 2008. the company functioning as the building’s landlord, MRP Santa Barbara LLC, handed out the eviction notices stating the families be out by December 12, with no further explanation as to why they must vacate. Twenty-two of the families being evicted responded to the notices on Friday, November 7, by requesting that a mediation process with MRP be held through Santa Barbara’s Rental Housing Mediation Task Force (RHMTF), a program run by the city of Santa Barbara to help settle rental disputes outside of court. On the Tuesday, November 11, MRP agreed to meet with the tenants and RHMTF staff to begin the remediation process.
The tenants are asking for an extension on the 60-day notice that would allow them to move after the holiday season and after the school semester has ended. If the extension is not granted, nearly 90 children will be forced to leave Adams Elementary school mid-semester, not only disrupting the education of the students who must leave, but also the normal functioning of the school. The families are also asking for a fair return of security deposits as the evictions proceed.
PUEBLO cites in its press release that “The City of Santa Barbara has laws that provide tenants with relocation benefits when evictions are based on planned demolitions but not under other circumstances.” So in the Modoc case, MRP has yet to request a permit from the City of Santa Barbara suggesting any significant renovation plans, and, to date, it has only requested a permit to change the windows of the units. As it stands now, consequently, the soon-to-be evicted tenants will not be given any help to find new homes.
Shawn Tallant, PUEBLO’s education fund organizer and a speaker at the press conference, said he was hopeful that the process could end in a way agreeable to both parties. “We hope everything will be resolved the same day,” he said. “The landlord has done more than is required by law [by agreeing to meet with RHMTF], which we greatly appreciate, but this whole situation shows the lack of rights for tenants in general.”
Tallant went on to explain that this case has motivated PUEBLO to rally other community groups to respond to the lack of tenant right’s the Modoc evictions have illuminated. “We are looking to form a coalition with organizations in the community to address lack of tenant’s rights and show the impact it has on working class people. We want to get laws passed that protect the interests of all parties involved,” he said.
Jennifer Bailey, the executive director of the Santa Barbara chapter Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE SB), also spoke at the press conference confirming her organization’s support for remediation. “As citizens of Santa Barbara we’re all in this together. The mediation process is very important and saves money by preventing legal battles,” Bailey said.
A number of the evicted tenants also spoke at the press conference, including Manuel Juarez who has been raising his family at Hillshore Gardens for 15 years. “It’s unjust to face eviction during the month of December, especially with our children and their education. For us, it’s important to spend the holiday season here. It will be difficult for us to find housing elsewhere,” he explained through a Spanish-to-English translator. For now, Juarez and fellow evictees must wait until the mediation meeting on Thursday and hope their landlord will show some mercy.