West of Highway 154 between the 101 and Cathedral Oaks Road, the San Vicente Mobile Home Park has been a thriving senior community for over 40 years — a tight-knit neighborhood that’s safe and affordable for its 55-and-older residents. Those who live in the park can’t walk down its streets without being greeted by neighbors. They hold potlucks and events at the park’s community center and support each other through good times and bad. One resident said she hasn’t locked her front door in years because she trusts her neighbors so much. Their way of life is being threatened, though, by new regulations implemented by the park’s new management that have already driven many residents from their homes.
St. Vincent’s of Santa Barbara leased the land in 1978 to the Parker and Rice families — who developed the 320-acre parcel into the San Vicente Mobile Home Park — for rental income to fund St. Vincent’s ministries. Established in 1858, St. Vincent’s has earned a sterling reputation in Santa Barbara for its charity work, including the area’s first infirmary for children, a preschool, low-income housing for families and seniors, and a program for single mothers and their children to learn life skills. Previously headed by CEO Sister Margaret Keaveney, the nonprofit’s leadership shifted to its first unordained CEO, Rosa Paredes, in 2017 — the same year St. Vincent’s took over management of the mobile home park.
Under the Parker/Rice ownership, the park became a neighborhood of 270 homes with running water, electricity, its own roads, and a central community center with a tennis court, pool, and game room. When the 40-year lease was up in 2017, the Parker and Rice families were unable to renew, and St. Vincent’s took over management of the park. Although homeowners were initially told they shouldn’t be concerned about the transition, it has become a nightmare for many of them.
After decades of allowing subletting to renters, St. Vincent’s told homeowners they would no longer be allowed to sublease their properties. Santa Barbara’s vacancy rate for rentals is currently less than one-half percent, making it nearly impossible for the seniors being evicted by the new rule to secure affordable housing before the September deadline. Many of those affected are in their eighties and nineties and have severe health issues — including incurable cancers and strokes.
Residents say they have repeatedly entreated St. Vincent’s to continue to allow the practice of subletting, but St. Vincent’s CEO Rosa Paredes has repeatedly denied the request without providing sufficient reasoning. The Independent reached out to Paredes, the park’s consultant Trey Pinner, and its attorney Terry Bartlett for comment multiple times, but the requests were either denied or ignored.
“They aren’t going to respond to moral or ethical reasoning, so we have to go the shame route,” one renter said about their reasoning for making the dispute public. Of the more than 20 residents (both renters and homeowners) who spoke with the Independent, none were willing to be identified by name. “I’m saying this, although I’m scared it will come back to bite me, out of hope it will change their minds,” the renter said. Residents repeatedly cited fear of retaliation as the reason for staying anonymous, but they wanted their stories shared.
Under the California Mobilehome Residency Law (MRL), St. Vincent’s is within its legal rights to take away homeowners’ right to sublease to renters. One homeowner said the way the laws are written allows landowners to do “essentially whatever they want” to homeowners because wealthier landowners have access to better attorneys.
An 84-year-old renter with stage four prostate cancer said maintaining residency in the park is vital to his welfare. “Continuing to make my home remaining here in the park is fundamental to my sense of well-being and the quality of my remaining life,” the renter said. Residents have asked St. Vincent’s to “grandfather” in the remaining six or seven renters until they either voluntarily move out or pass away. (Because some renters are still in the process of moving out, the exact number of renters facing eviction is unclear.) The request was denied simply because it’s within St. Vincent’s legal right to do so and that the majority of mobile home parks don’t allow it.
One homeowner said she had neighbors, a couple who were renting, who left earlier this year out of fear. The husband had recently had a stroke, and the stress from the move reportedly exacerbated his condition, causing him to go into a second “health attack” after they moved into their smaller, $800-more-a-month rental outside of San Vicente.
Another homeowner has been subletting his home to a 94-year-old tenant for over a decade. The homeowner, unaware at the time that St. Vincent’s would take away subleasing rights, promised the tenant a home until residential medical care was required. When the homeowner asked St. Vincent’s to allow the tenant to continue living there, he was told they “cannot make exceptions for one person or they’d have to make exceptions for others.”
Many homeowners who haven’t subleased their homes and don’t plan to are still outraged at the new rule because having the option was a reason they chose to invest in the first place. Five of the homeowners interviewed said their San Vicente homes were one of the biggest investments of their lives, and they would never have done so if they knew their right to sublease would be taken from them.
“After [a surgery], I could end up in a care facility,” one of the homeowners said. “Renting my home would certainly pay for a little of that, and I wouldn’t have to sell my home. … I would have a home to come home to.”
Because of the expenses of caring for other family members in care facilities, many homeowners subleased their homes to offset the costs. With this new rule, they will have to sell their homes to pay for either their own care or their loved ones’. Although the MRL allows homeowners to sublease their homes if they are put in a medical facility, it only allows them to charge renters the amount of the mortgage for up to a year, defeating the purpose of offsetting medical bills.
A group of homeowners in the park put together a 60-page proposal for St. Vincent’s, hoping to change the administration’s mind. The packet included signed letters and interviews from residents, photos of the well-kept subleased homes, a list of the benefits of subleasing, and a final “invitation” to St. Vincent’s to work with the homeowners to “create a more flexible and humane environment” that can benefit both St. Vincent’s and the homeowners. “To hopefully elicit greater understanding, empathy, compassion, and flexibility in the awareness and decisions of St. Vincent’s,” the proposal reads, “we’ve included an assortment of personal letters which address residents’ fears, concerns, uncertainty, confusion, and impact on their physical and mental well-being resulting from the attempted imposition of these new rules.”
Although CEO Paredes acknowledged in August 2018 at one of several “meet and confer” meetings with homeowners that she received the 60-page proposal, she said the contents would not change her stance. The proposal also outlined St. Vincent’s self-proclaimed values — advocacy, respect, excellence — and asked the nonprofit to reflect upon its own values in relation to San Vicente. “It’s shocking how expensive it is outside of the park,” one renter said. “I am in my eighties and will have to sell most of my belongings to make it work. … Life is already uncertain as it is. Where is the compassion from the church?”