Tenants hold an organizing meeting at CBC & The Sweeps to keep residents informed of the changing legalities regarding eviction in Santa Barbara County. | Credit: Courtesy Chelsea Lancaster

“We Hate the Poor, We’re Rotten to the Core!” is a slogan tenants wrote for their landlord, Core Spaces, as they formed a new tenant association to combat the evictions at CBC & The Sweeps in Isla Vista. Though the apartments are several blocks from the University of California, Santa Barbara, they’re not filled with students; rather, many of the residents are lower-income families and tenants who hold Section 8 vouchers.

The tenants got a major victory on April 6 when county supervisors voted in an urgency eviction ordinance. The new “just cause” eviction text states that renovation permits must be in hand before tenants can be evicted for construction or demolition, which is the plan at the Sweeps. The new ordinance also specifically says that it applies to unlawful detainers, a phase of the eviction process that has not yet been served on tenants at the Sweeps.

An association gives the tenants “strength in numbers,” said organizers with the Santa Barbara Tenants Union, which formed in 2020 and has met with Sweeps tenants. “A few people really panicked before we could start the wheel moving of a tenant association,” said Ananya Kepper, who’s lived at the Sweeps for a year and a half. Though Kepper is a grad student in chemistry and materials science at UCSB, she said her neighbors are mostly families. The parents and their children are the ones who are the most affected by the evictions, she said.

“A lot of students weren’t planning to renew and were happy to take the relocation money and go,” Kepper said. “Kicking out families to start a bed-by-bed rental model — that’s a crazy issue for fair housing. It’s discriminating against families with kids,” she said, adding that they felt Supervisor Laura Capps was very much on their side in creating the new ordinance.

After Core Spaces bought CBC & The Sweeps for $91 million in March, it sent 60-day notices that told tenants to leave because “substantial” renovations were going to begin. This follows the company’s business model of buying college housing and converting the units to “luxury” housing.

In Isla Vista, most apartments hold more than one student per room, both because of the expense of the units and also due to an extreme housing crunch. (UCSB was to build housing for 5,000 students and 1,800 faculty and staff before the student population hit 25,000, a number already surpassed, according to lawsuits by both the County of Santa Barbara and the City of Goleta.) The findings in the urgency ordinance put the vacancy rate at less than 2 percent in South County, an area that would lose 2,050 units of its affordable stock within two years: Private equity, or investment companies, were buying more and more buildings that would otherwise naturally age into less-expensive apartments, renovating them “into upscale apartments, pushing low-income tenants out.”

The Sweeps houses somewhere around 1,000 people — though company spokesperson Katy Darnaby advised their lease agreements total 550 persons — who paid market-rate rents, said Kepper. Her one-bedroom costs her $2,211 per month. “It was fully renovated when I moved in,” she said. “Wood laminate floors, new carpet, the best water pressure in the building. This shows they can do it one unit at a time.” The former owners had let some units fall into disrepair with visible mold and termite damage, she added.

Security guards hired by Core Spaces | Credit: Courtesy

The conflict between the landlord and tenants seems to be growing. As tenants organized meetings, Core Spaces hired security guards. According to the Core Spaces Tenant Association, the guards peeped through windows, took photos of people’s belongings, and photographed tenants. Kepper said people found it terrifying. One very vocal tenant, she said, suffered a broken window and nail in a car tire.

Company spokesperson Darnaby stated the security guards were hired because “threatening messages have been sent to our employees and company.” She added that they’d found no evidence of the claims in the Tenant Association letter. The guards would take photographs when residents filed incident reports, she said, but none had been filed regarding unnecessary photography, lurking security guards, or vandalism.

As for the terms of the new ordinance, Kepper echoed Supervisor Das Williams’s observation that the new law was a “speedbump,” not a solution. “It’ll slow down the process,” she said, “so that Core Spaces isn’t evicting 1,000 people at one time just to increase rents.” As for Core Spaces’ business model of housing college students in luxury: “There are only so many rich people in the world,” Kepper noted, “and they have only so many children.”

Correction: The urgency eviction ordinance passed on April 6, not April 10.

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