SAN MARCOS — National CORE, a nonprofit affordable housing developer that has recently faced backlash over its decision to relocate dozens of low-income families for a redevelopment project, has reached a settlement with its tenants.
According to André León from the San Diego Tenants Union, tenants who were a part of the union and were still at Villa Serena Apartments could choose between a $10,000 settlement for relocation assistance or temporary subsidized hotel accommodations where tenants would be paying around $650 a month, with National CORE putting up the difference.
The developer, which will soon begin the process of demolishing and rebuilding the Villa Serena Apartments located at 340 Marcos Street, sent 90-day notices to 60 low-income families back in November alerting them that they would have to relocate.
In December, members of the Villa Serena Tenant Association with the support of the San Diego Tenants Union sent a letter to the developer criticizing them for “depriv[ing] [tenants] of their legal right to relocation assistance.”
This is referring to documents that tenants have been required to sign since at least March of 2016.
Typically, tenants are entitled to relocation benefits and assistance, including, but not limited to rental assistance, advisory services and payment for moving expenses.
However, in addition to standard leasing documents, National CORE has required tenants to sign a “Move-in Sheet” and a “Waiver of Relocation Benefits Notice,” which says that signatories waive their rights to federal Uniform Relocation Assistance (URA) and state relocation assistance, respectively.
The “Move-in Sheet” claims that signatories “will not be entitled to any relocation payments or assistance provided under the URA, and the “Waiver of Relocation Benefits Notice” claims that signatories “will NOT be entitled to any relocation payments and/or assistance provided under the California Relocation Assistance Law.”
Note that the 90-day notice that tenants received only provided a list of properties in the area that tenants had preference for the waiting list. The notice explicitly said that it was the responsibility of the residents to secure their own housing.
On Feb. 6, members of the Villa Serena Tenant Association led a demonstration in front of the apartment complex demanding their right to relocation assistance.
Soon after these events, National CORE began helping tenants with rental applications, applications to the San Marcos Rental Assistance Programs, moving expenses, monetary support, job searches, as well as making their tenants a priority for an upcoming affordable housing community called El Dorado.
However, according to León, tenants wanted their relocation benefits legally restored, in writing.
In late February, the Villa Serena Tenants Association, along with the San Diego Tenants Union, met with National CORE leadership, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones and the corresponding councilmember.
Since then, the settlement has been finalized and tenants had until March 15 to move out of Villa Serena.
“The Villa Serena Tenants Association accomplished so much because they unionized and supported one another in the face of strong opposition,” León said. “They used every tool at their disposal—the law, politics, social media, direct organizing—to get the relocation assistance they deserved. We will continue to support Villa Serena tenants and have no doubt that they will be leaders in training and supporting tenants across the county.”
León said that they will continue to work with some tenants who are still in need of more permanent housing.
In the meantime, the union is looking ahead to phase two of National CORE’s Villa Serena redevelopment project, which will redevelop a second building in the complex. The union plans on providing assistance to those tenants, as well.
“It’s completely hypocritical for an affordable housing developer to come in and tell low-income tenants that they need to leave and that they’ve signed away their rights,” León said. “What we often see with affordable housing developers, in particular, is they try and kind of mask themselves in this false moral superiority. They talk about how they’re doing this to help the community and make a positive difference when the reality is that they’re adding maybe two dozen new units to a city that has grown tremendously in population.”
National CORE declined to comment at this time.