In mid-September, an unfamiliar woman approached Ana Naranjo’s apartment door. She then handed Naranjo a sheet of paper, demanding that she sign it.
Naranjo looked down at the paper. It was written in English. As a Spanish speaker whose English was not very good, Naranjo couldn’t understand a word of it.
But the woman forced her to sign. Said she was working with the owner of Naranjo’s apartment complex, and that her signature was necessary.
Feeling the pressure and not wanting any trouble, Naranjo put her signature down.
She soon learned that the words on the paper were essentially informing her that she and her family only had one month left in their apartment. For no reason whatsoever, Naranjo had been told that the place she’d called home for 26 years would not be her home for much longer.
“I never saw this woman before,” said Naranjo. “She told me not to even try to contact the owner that I had been dealing with before. She said, from now on, it will be her. And after that day, I tried to call and text the owner. But she doesn’t answer.”
Since that encounter, Naranjo has been scrambling to find a way to stay in the two-bedroom apartment that she shares with her husband, three children, mother, and sister. She was able to get them to extend her time by an extra 30 days, but as of now, the clock is still ticking.
Her unit is located on Selwyn Drive in Milpitas, and is part of a group of complexes that span a street that curves around in a half-circle. Though the complexes have different owners, Naranjo has noticed the emergence of a definite pattern…
“There are other families this has happened to. Around the corner, there is a family where the rent was suddenly raised to $900, and they ended up leaving,” said Naranjo. “I know of two other families that were forced to leave too. These families go out to more affordable places like Sacramento or Madera. Another one is about to leave, but doesn’t know where to go. In my case, I’ve been fighting it. So they say they are giving me 30 extra days.”
Unfortunately, this kind of situation is not new to the Bay Area.
With escalating home costs and a lack of affordable housing opportunities, many are being severely impacted.
Some landlords who wish to make more money off of their rental units are evicting tenants without reason, taking advantage of the absence of laws to protect tenants here in Milpitas.
Another woman, L, who wishes to remain anonymous, also lives in one of the apartment units on Selwyn, has been struggling to keep up with the rent lately.
She had been serving as manager of her complex for a little over 10 years. In return for her work, she paid a lower rental rate of $1,500 each month. However, a few months ago, when the ownership of the complex changed hands, they told her that they would no longer be requiring her services as manager, and immediately raised her rent to $2,500.
“I’ve been borrowing money to survive,” L said. “I can’t be late on any payments.”
Having been diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, she is currently undergoing chemotherapy. On top of that, a recent bout of colitis, which she just had two stomach surgeries to address, has been taxing on her body. She struggles to walk, and even stand, throughout the day, and it’s difficult for her to work. But she knows that without work, she will be unable to afford her rent each month. So L goes out to clean houses, in between doctor’s visits, just to stay afloat.
Despite her treatment regimen, she feels that she’s not getting better. And the day-to-day stress of her apartment situation is taking its toll on her. Although she hasn’t received any eviction notices, she has seen families around her receive them, and feels that it’s only a matter of time before she, too, is displaced.
Add to that the fact that, as L says, the building is not up to code…
“I’ve already fallen twice,” said L. “Because the lights outside of the complex are never turned on. My daughter has had to text the owner about this.”
On a block of apartments out on Adams Drive, many tenants are also struggling with building owners who are out of compliance and neglecting to upkeep the complexes’ exteriors.
One resident, who preferred to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by the owner of his complex, said a great deal of illegal dumping and junk cars are common next to his building. The lights outside of his complex are never on and functioning, either, which means that it’s pitch black at night.
“The owner doesn’t want to spend the money on the electricity,” he said.
This particular resident owns his unit, but the complex itself is owned by another party. He has lived there with his family for over a decade, and has not had any problems until two years ago, when suddenly the property stopped receiving maintenance.
Recently however, with the prevalence of this issue becoming more apparent throughout the region, people have been starting to take notice of situations like the ones that Naranjo and her family find themselves in.
Just last year, the tenants of the Sunnyhills Apartments, an affordable housing community in Milpitas, were told they had to vacate their homes, as the community’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contract was expiring, and the owner had plans to turn the apartments into market-rate townhomes. However, Milpitas City staff and Council worked to extend that contract another five years, and are currently trying to determine what sustainable solutions can be put in place to ensure that the Sunnyhills tenants are protected in the future.
“Situations like these, and the threatened redevelopment of Sunnyhills…these are the reasons why tenants need protection. The city needs to pass a tenant protection ordinance,” said Allysson McDonald, the President of the Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association. “These are our residents and neighbors; people who have the same right to live here as anyone else. Landlords are protected by the state with a fair return on their investment, and tenants have a right to peace of mind and a healthy living environment. We need to stand up for the tenants and pass an ordinance as soon as possible.”
In an effort to get support from Milpitas City staff and Council, Ana Naranjo went to the October 2 City Council meeting to let them know of her landlord’s intentions to evict her from her unit. She pleaded for support, expressing her fear of being left without a home. Council directed staff to look into the eviction and see what could be done to help.
“Milpitas is a community that’s diverse. A community that cares, and wants to ensure that everyone has a place to live,” said Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) Superintendent Cheryl Jordan, who does not want to see her students and families forced to leave the district. She was in the audience when Naranjo spoke. “I know our Council has a heart. And we’ve heard that in their direction to staff. They’re going to work to look for ways in which these families can be supported.”
Norma Morales is the Community Latino Liaison for MUSD, and has been working with many of the families that have been affected by evictions on Selwyn. Just a few days ago, after one of the families was forced to move from their Selwyn apartment due to the owner suddenly raising their rent from $1,760 to $2,600 (stated reason: remodeling), Morales sat with one of the mothers to assure her that regardless of where they moved, her son, who was a senior, would be allowed to finish up his education at Milpitas High School.
“This is an issue that’s happening across all of California; it’s not just us,” said Morales. “I feel the City and Council want to help but just need to determine how. I do appreciate that the City is really trying to help out as much as they can. This isn’t something that can be solved in one or two days. If it was that easy, I think every single county would have tenant protections in place.”
In the City of San Jose, just last April, two ordinances were adopted in an effort to protect tenants. The first one is a Tenant Protection Ordinance, which requires that landlords have a just cause to end a month-to-month tenancy; some of these causes include nonpayment of rent, nuisance behavior, and damage to the rental unit. Yet another ordinance requires that landlords who are taking their residential units off the rental market give tenants 120 days notice, and also help with their relocation.
Earlier this year, in Milpitas, a Tenant Protection Task Force was formed. Made up of various tenant and landlord representatives, the Task Force had its initial meeting this past September, convening to discuss housing affordability and tenant protection, in an effort to develop a set of tenant protection recommendations for staff to present to Council in early 2019, according to Public Information Officer Jennifer Yamaguma.
To help save Ana Naranjo and her family from having to leave their apartment, the City of Milpitas has reached out to Project Sentinel, a non-profit organization which aims to promote fairness and equality for all members of the community that are experiencing issues with housing. Since Naranjo has come forward, another family on Selwyn Drive has approached the City for support from being evicted, too. Project Sentinel is now working with that family, as well, and has begun the task of trying to determine if other evictions are happening on the street.
“The City continues to work with Project Sentinel on tenant-landlord mitigation and fair housing assistance in the Selwyn area,” wrote Yamaguma in an email to The Beat last week.
Meanwhile, others have taken up this cause. Comprised of a team of researchers, specialists, and students, the Eviction Lab, which was founded in 2017 at Princeton University, is working to bring the issues of home loss through eviction to the forefront of public awareness. A recent study they published shows that in California, the majority of tenants evicted from their apartments are Hispanic, Asian, and African-American. This is the case on Selwyn Drive, where many of the families are Hispanic, and some have even mentioned that their landlords have told them that if they come forward about their eviction issues, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be called. As a result, many have kept their mouths shut, opting to quietly pick up and move their families to places like Modesto, which they can more easily afford.
“At any given moment, any of us are two paychecks away from living in poverty. At any given moment. We have the privilege of speaking English and knowing what our rights are,” said Karina Dominguez, a Crime Prevention Specialist for the San Jose Police Department. “And there’s this population in our community who don’t speak English who don’t know their rights, who are very afraid right now.”
For Ana Naranjo and her family, the options run thin as time runs out.
October 31 is the last day that the Naranjos’ landlord will allow them to occupy their apartment.
Things would already be tough for them without this burden. Naranjo’s sister, who also lives in the apartment, has been diagnosed with cancer, and has had four surgeries on her brain. And Naranjo’s mother, who just turned 82, is disabled. Naranjo takes care of both women each day, while her husband works to bring in income.
“I’m really involved in my community and school district,” said Naranjo. “Everything is here. My life has been here all these years. Now I’m really scared. I don’t know what to do or where to go.”
At press time, The Milpitas Beat has not been able to make contact with any of the above-referenced landlords for their comments.