December 30, 2004

“Condo Conversion” a bad deal for residents

By Luis Alonso Pérez

There is a new housing trend in the San Diego area. Apartment buildings completely remodeled and sold as luxury condominiums, also known as “Condo conversions.” An excellent opportunity for families that can’t afford a half million dollar house.

But one man’s gain is another man’s loss, and in San Ysidro’s Southgate Village apartment complex –home for more than 180 moderate income families– tenants like Beatriz Romo and her family are being evacuated so the owner can turn their apartment into a condominium. But they won’t move out without taking their case, once again, to the San Diego City Planning Commission on February 3.

Beatriz and her family come from Jalisco. Her husband has been living in San Ysidro for nine years, the last six of them in Southgate Village. Mrs. Romo decided to come to the United States with her two youngest daughters because of her 15 year old daughter’s diabetes problem. “My main concern was her health, so we came here so she could have access to better medical services.”

For a couple of months now she’s been receiving letters from the owners telling them to start looking for a new place to live. A few weeks ago she received a visit from Arlen Shire and Martha Delgadillo from ACORN San Diego (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) asking her to sign a document rejecting the evictions and inviting her to the tenant meetings. Beatriz accepted and assisted the next meeting in Javier’s –another Southgate resident– pizza place, right in front of the apartment complex.

This was the first time Mrs. Romo assisted with a tenant meeting, but the problems in Southgate Village have been going on for more than a year. Arlen Shire was the first tenant that started collecting signatures from neighbors to stop the eviction and make their case before the Local Planning Commission.

But the building owner Ralph Bwy appealed the decision and requested a new permit, only this time he didn’t notice any of the tenants about the public hearing with the planning commission. With no opposing arguments, the remodeling project got approved.

When neighbors noticed that they where still going to be evicted, they appealed the decision, a permit like this one can’t be given if the tenants weren’t notified, so on September 30 they requested a time extension so they could take their case to the San Diego City Planning Committee last Thursday December 9.

Neighbors from Southgate supported by the lawyer Catherine Rodman, Mario Lopez, representing Congressman Bob Filner and Martha Delgadillo, representing ACORN presented their case to the committee.

The testimonies from the community members, Mario Lopez and Catherine Rodman, caused the Planning Committee members to postpone their decision until the owner of the building can reach an agreement with the tenants. Being considered is an offer on first option to buy the condos, but according to Martha Delgadillo, the prices are too high and it’s very difficult for Southgate families to afford it.

Beatriz Romo and her family pay 900 dollars a month because her husband has been living in that apartment for over six years, but some of her neighbors pay up to 1,200 dollars. “We spend a lot of money on rent and sometimes we can’t even afford the most basic things.” Beatriz fears that if the project gets approved they will have to move to a neighborhood east of the San Diego area.

But it is not only San Ysidro, National City or Chula Vista that is having this problem, it’s happening all around San Diego, a clear sign that this city is going through a housing crisis. “If nobody is demanding fairly priced housing, I don’t know where this problem is going to take us” said Martha Delgadillo. “The most important thing is that people wake up and start asking authorities to stop the conversions.”

For now Beatriz and her family are still waiting to see if the Southgate owner’s proposal is going to fit their budget. If not, they will have to find another place to live.

“They say this is the land of opportunities, but now I don’t know what to think. We just got here and we have to face these type of problems”.

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