Reprieve for Modoc Road Evictees

Mediation Results in Tenants Remaining Through Christmas

2541 Modoc Road and their landlord has allowed them to stay in their longtime home for just a bit longer, it seems. This outcome resulted from cooperation between the residents, the property's owners, and advocacy group PUEBLO.
Paul Wellman

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 students.

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.

Belen Seara
Paul Wellman

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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