SAN MARCOS – A San Marcos housing developer is facing backlash from the San Diego Tenants Union over its decision to redevelop an affordable housing complex, forcing dozens of families to relocate.
National CORE, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, will soon begin the process of demolishing and rebuilding the Villa Serena Apartments located at 340 Marcos Street.
According to National CORE, the first phase of the project, which is set to begin at the end of March, will relocate tenants in 60 units.
Tenants received a 90-day notice back in November, and that’s when the San Diego Tenants Union became involved.
In December, members of the Villa Serena Tenant Association with the support of the San Diego Tenants Union wrote a letter to National CORE alleging that National CORE “deprived [them] of their legal right to relocation assistance.”
They are referring to documents that tenants have been required to sign since at least March of 2016.
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 state 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.”
Courtney Richard, head of the relocation group at National CORE, confirmed these documents to The Coast News.
“Whenever a new resident moved in they signed what’s called a move-in sheet, and that is a hard notice informing them that there may be a project on-site and they sign a notice that they are not entitled to relocation benefits. Even from that date, there were multiple new details informing them of the potential of the project,” Richard said.
In the letter, the Villa Serena Tenant Association claims that tenants were “systematically intimidated” into signing these documents.
However, according to Richard Diaz, National CORE’s general counsel, this was required of tenants who signed a lease after the company had already decided that they would be redeveloping the property. There were approximately 19 families who were residing at Villa Serena before the redevelopment process had started who did receive relocation benefits.
These benefits could amount to up to $30,000 to $40,000 per family, according to Diaz.
“For new residents that come in, we can ask them to waive those rights, and the reason we do that is because, at that point, we know that we’re going to knock down the building to build a new community,” Diaz said. “We’re not required to invite new residents to come into the property knowing that the moment we get the funding, we’re going to have to turn around and pay residents $30,000 or $40,000 even if they haven’t been there for very long. We’re in the business of providing affordable housing, not in making large-scale payouts when they’re not called for or merited.”
In June of 2016, National CORE submitted an application for public funds which included a 50-page document titled “Villa Serena 1 Relocation Plan.”
This “Relocation Plan,” which was ultimately reviewed and accepted by the City of San Marcos, states that “Work on each phase of development will be preceded by responsible relocation that minimizes the negative impacts on residents. Access to affordable housing will continue seamlessly before and after relocation.”
Note that the 90-day notice that tenants received only provided a list of properties in the area that tenants had a preference for the waiting list. The notice explicitly said that it was the responsibility of the residents to secure their own housing.
Since then, National CORE has been 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.
“National CORE has now started offering the relocation assistance to which tenants were always entitled, but this only happened after the Villa Serena Tenants Association organized as a unified force,” said Andre León from the San Diego Tenants Union. “That relocation and financial support are now on the table and that tenants are getting meetings between Mayor Jones, Councilmember Nuñez, and the highest levels of National CORE leadership, is a testament to the value of tenant solidarity generally, and tenants unions, specifically.”
The San Diego Tenants Union has also raised concerns about whether or not National CORE is attempting to bypass the county, state and federal pandemic renter protection programs that are in place such as eviction moratoria.
“The primary intent of the eviction moratoria is to avoid eviction for non-payment of rent because of COVID-19 and the economic difficulties that residents are having… but that is not this,” Diaz said. “We are not evicting anyone because of non-payment of rent. We are relocating folks and moving them to different places because we are totally demolishing and redeveloping the property.”
Diaz added that each of their tenants has priority in moving back into Villa Serena once the project is completed, which will be around September 2022.
“Tenants have said this many times, they are not against reconstruction and remodeling and beautifying the community and creating more affordable housing, they understand that it’s necessary and that it’s ultimately going to be a net positive for them and the community,” León said. “What they take issue with is the fact that they were basically told that they had to self-evict in 90 days, and that very first communication offered basically no assistance for how to move forward.”