Isla Vista Beat Reporter
Members of the Isla Vista Tenants Union and other advocates marched alongside local families outside the apartment complex Abrego Villas on Friday, Jan. 30, protesting the evictions of six families who were not lawfully compensated for their relocation.
The march, part of IVTU’s three-day campaign in support of the families, began early in the afternoon at the Associated Students Pardall Center, first winding its way down Embarcadero del Norte and through most of downtown Isla Vista before settling outside of Abrego Villas.
Once there, the 20-some protesters continued to chant mantras such as “People over profit!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” as they marched in a continuous circuit on the sidewalk outside the buildings. Many carried signs sporting messages such as “Housing rights are human rights,” and “No corporate interests in IV.”
One young girl even held a poster of her own design. Its stick figure drawings were captioned by a simple message: “Be fair.”
IVTU Vice President Alex Meallet could be found at the head of the march, metallic “Tenants unite!” sign in hand, for most of its almost four-hour duration.
“Our whole goal of this campaign is to get the compensation benefits that these tenants deserve, to let the management company know we won’t tolerate these kinds of actions,” she said.
Majestic Asset Management, which acquired the Abrego Road property in June 2014, issued notices to the families in August mandating their departure within 60 days to allow the management company to begin various renovations on the apartments, including modifications to the bathrooms and kitchens. The company furthermore increased the rental rates of the apartments by over 50 percent, according to a press release from IVTU.
Per Santa Barbara County Ordinance 4444, in cases such as these when more than 10 percent of tenants on the same property are evicted, those tenants are entitled to relocation fees from the proprietor. Since being approached by the evicted families in August, IVTU has sponsored the filing of small claims lawsuits against Majestic aimed at securing those fees for the families.
“This ordinance seeks to mitigate financial hardships that [tenants] are placed in when they’re evicted, and it also seeks to reduce the over-flooding of the housing market, because with a mass eviction, all these people have to go and find housing, which just makes it more difficult for everyone to have housing,” Meallet said.
One of the marchers, single mother Maria Hernandez, lived in her apartment for 11 years before receiving an eviction notice from Majestic. Her pregnant daughter was just days away from giving birth when the family was expected to vacate the premises.
“I still went to ask if they would give another opportunity for us to stay, but they said no,” she said.*
According to Hernandez, the eviction was a source of great distress for her daughter, who she said “became depressed”* and “cried very much”* after hearing the news.
After receiving her eviction notice, long-term resident Vicenta Martinez was forced to move out of Isla Vista due to a lack of alternative housing availability. Unable to find even a full apartment at an affordable rate, she now lives in what she calls a “tiny room”* near Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, with a rental rate of $750 per month.
“I looked for a place to live [in IV], but I did not find anything because everything was occupied by students returning from the summer,” she said.*
Martinez now commutes to her job at Freebirds in IV, and she says finding transportation to do so is often difficult.
“I have heard of cases so extreme that they’ve had to take their kids out of school and relocate them to another one,” Meallet said, “and they themselves had to find new jobs just because they couldn’t live in the neighborhood anymore.”
After IVTU first approached Majestic about its violation of Ordinance 4444, the company began retracting the evictions, offering families the chance to return to their apartments once the renovations had been completed. But at that point, 45 days after the notices had been issued, the families had already entered into new housing contracts.
According to Meallet, in addition to mandating relocation fees, the ordinance also requires county permits for certain more extensive renovations, and Majestic did not obtain these permits before starting work on the apartments. As such, the company has halted more transformative improvements and has so far only carried out renovations of carpet, wall paint, and landscaping, none of which require these permits.
Two march participants, both third-year students who wished to remain unnamed, are currently living in one of the apartments from which one family was evicted in October. Out of support for the displaced families, neither originally wanted to take out the lease, but the circumstances of their own displacement made doing so a necessity.
“Some of us were couchsurfing last quarter—the entire quarter, couchsurfing, which was very emotionally, physically, mentally draining,” one student said. “And then the other two were in an overcrowded apartment—11 people in a two-bedroom apartment. We were desperate.”
The students and their two housemates settled on the Abrego apartment as a last resort, after a series of failed attempts to secure housing elsewhere. They allege that they lost their chance at an alternative apartment after needing a week to compile $1,000 to pay the required deposit.
Though they feel strongly about the importance of tenant rights, the students said that the low-income lifestyle does not always afford the time to adequately advocate for them. Each person currently living in their apartment, including both of them, has at least one job in addition to their course loads as students; some have two.
The families’ lawsuits were originally supposed to be heard in court on Feb. 11, but Majestic recently requested a change in court date. The case is now predicted to extend into March, though no new court date has yet been decided.
“We’re both low-income, we’re both people of color,” one unnamed student said of the families, “and we’re forced into competition with each other.”
*Translated from Spanish by Isla Vista Beat Reporter Kelsey Knorp.