Lydia Horne received a free haircut and a toiletry bag – at the Age-Less Beauty (Blessing our Seniors) gathering on March 31.
The event happened at about noon in the courtyard of the Southern Highland Independent Senior Living complex on Highland Avenue, south of 24th Street.
Horne, 73, was happy at the moment, but then realized that this might be her last shindig with the 29 elderly neighbors that signed up for the pampering.
“My rent will soon be exceeding more than I receive,” she said, “so come July, I will be moving out.”
She said that the rent for her studio will be increased to $1060 in July and since she’s moved in in 2014, “rent went from $775 to $980.”
Horne was sitting in her walker next to the DJ playing “And the Beat Goes On” by Orbit.
Today was the second giveback-event of this type, organized by Love Thy Neighbor. Horne and her neighbors were offered other free services like a manicure, a hairdo and a facial makeover, but she passed this time around.
In October, when I wrote a story on their inaugural Age-less gathering, I received a phone message from an anonymous tenant in the complex. “They are clearing the seniors out,” he said. “They only need ten percent seniors even though they advertise to be a 55-plus independent living facility.
"Many of the units for seniors here are far above market rate as we speak. There should be laws for a certain percentage of rent hikes during a 12-month period.”
The tipster didn’t leave a return phone number, so I decided to crash their next event.
The DJ was now spinning some Earth Wind & Fire on his turntables. One of the blind and elderly residents was dancing with another neighbor that was leaning on his walker. I noticed a hair stylist having a difficult time cutting the hair of one of the tenants, because his head was bobbing to the beat.
I passed the disco-line and found Mary, 63, and Jane, 75, smoking cigarettes by a table covered by an umbrella.
Mary has been here for seven years and Jane moved in in early 2015. The two requested that I didn’t use their real names because “we’ll be in the street tomorrow,” Mary said.
“This was one of the larger events that we’ve had here” Mary said. “It’s rewarding when the organizers and their people make you feel so good and are helping us with the food.”
Earlier at about noon, Burros and Fries gave the senior citizens a burrito and french fries. Canned beans, vegetables, and fruits were available to take home, if one had a stricter diet.
“It’s really painful because I was in the real estate business and I see what’s going on with the market values,” Mary said, ”There was one owner four years ago and then another one two years ago.”
In January 2016, the San Diego Business Journal posted a story, “National City Senior Apartment Property Sells for $14.9 Million.”
It read in part “Santa Barbara-based Highland Partners has acquired the 151-unit Southern Highlands senior apartment complex in National City for $14.9 million, according to brokerage company Sperry Van Ness Asset Advisory Group. The seller of the property, at 2525 Highland Ave., was M&L Financial of Los Angeles. Sperry Van Ness has been retained to manage the property. Southern Highlands is an independent-living apartment building for seniors constructed in 1999 and acquired in 2015 by the seller, which performed extensive renovations.”
Jane is saddened that ten of her friends have moved out since the last rent increase in February. “This place sucks,” she said, “this is suppose to be a senior citizens place and they are putting young people in here.”
Mary yelled “Ditto that….. with the turnover with the different owners, they are trying to bring the complex up to market value, but this is not the way to do it. They should’ve gradually done this over the years — so we the tenants are suffering.”
Mary said that last Easter, her rent was about $845. In February it was raised to $995 and come July, it will be raised to $1095.
“The original owner never put money back into it” Mary said, “and they never kept up the place and it was run down terribly. They’ve got about 60 percent of the apartments redone but being here for seven years, they’ve never done anything for me as far as apartment painting or carpeting. I mean, you should have new carpeting every five years.”
The rent prices include water, electricity and trash, “but this building is run on one meter,” Mary said, “how can you charge everybody the same whether two or three people are living there? But that’s how it is.”
During the gathering, Mayor Ron Morrison hung out with the tenants.
“I know the mayor,” Jane said, “he said he’s trying to put more affordable housing in the city, but there’s no money.”
Mary and Jane, like many of their elderly neighbors, live on their Social Security checks, and “a lot of us don’t have extra money to go anywhere and sometimes we get no food.”
“They got a big kitchen in there, and they used to have lunch in there,” Mary said, “it was a great price and you could get about anything — even healthy food. They stopped doing that about four years ago. David was the owner, and it was not profitable for the building to have a restaurant.”
Every Wednesday, Chely and her hubby Ricardo — from Love Thy Neighbor, bring food from their headquarters at The Light/First Southern Baptist Church, to the elderly residents here.
“Today’s event was a total success” Chely said, “the joy in their faces said it all. It’s such an awesome feeling to see that the seniors are already waiting for us. They count on us.”
The couple usually bring tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, fruits and canned goods and distribute the goodies in the facility’s reading area.
Helen LaHaye, a retired registered nurse, and Jim LaHaye, a retired Navy serviceman, just moved in two months ago. “We were staying at a board-and-care in El Cajon, and it was $2400 a month,” Helen said. “They have meals and activities, but it was too much money.”
Helen got her hair and nails done and Jim was stacking food cans in his bag to bring to their studio. They were ready for Easter the next day.
“I got a case worker to see if he could help us because we didn’t know our way around,” Helen said, “and he’s the one that brought us here.”
When they moved in to the facility they didn’t have any furnishings. Chely and Ricardo came in and provided them with a new dinner table and household goods.
“We really don’t have any family here,” Helen said, “so this organization and the residents here are our family, and more so that they bring the Lord.”
After my interviews with the residents at around 3 p.m., I attempted to talk with the Southern Highland staff regarding the rent increases and the now defunct food pantry. They declined to be interviewed.
When I googled the words “Southern Highland National City” in October, the top searches that came up listed the property as an Independent Senior Living facility, which is depicted on the signs facing the streets. On Easter Sunday, I did a google search again, and found that the top searches were now regular apartment-locator websites. Zumper was one of the sites, and they offered a move-in special at “1/2 off 1st month” and studios for $1,100.