Lillibelle and Jimmy have lived in their Linda Vista apartment complex for more than twenty years. So when the 36-apartment complex was sold for $8.3 million last year, the couple began keeping track of the buyer’s plans – especially after their rent was nearly doubled.
They don’t know exactly why it was sold, but assumed it had to do with settling the owner’s estate. When Community HousingWorks bought it, their rent jumped to $1,000. That’s still cheap, they say, and it helps a lot when you can’t work the way you used to.
The complex of nine buildings looks like it isn’t taken care of but has been individualized on a family by family basis. Christmas lights and picket fences, and homey touches give each four-plex character, as does the way it’s laid out. The nine buildings sprawl on almost three acres lot in two clusters separated by an access road. The cluster of five buildings are laid out in a bendy U-shape and the other four are laid out the long way to form an X. There’s big areas of green between them, free-standing four-plexes in a park setting. It gives the side-by-side, two-story apartments the feeling of a comfortable distance from the neighbors – enough so that nearly all of the residents haven’t put up fences.
“You can’t see into your neighbors’ houses and they can’t see into ours,” Jose, the former property manager, say. The Ulric Street complex is back to back with the Linda Vista Community Park, adding more green.
The complex was built during World War II for aircraft workers.
According to the lender website: “Many of the homes in Linda Vista were built in 1940-41 as part of a government project to house aircraft workers for the war effort. A construction project that began in October 1940 resulted in 3,000 houses being built within 200 days.”
Usually when such a complex is torn down for a larger affordable housing project, the people who lived on the site before construction have to get in line with all the other applicants, as required by the San Diego Housing Commission. But this time – and for only the second time in the city – the current residents who qualify for the low-rent apartments have dibs on them. (The first was in Rancho Penasquitos where developers of a market rate project agreed to build additional affordable housing.
“We petitioned the housing commission to allow people to return to the housing if they are eligible,” says Community HousingWorks Project Manager Sylvia Martinez. “I hope it sets a great precedent.”
Martinez regularly attends the Linda Vista Planning Group to share what the developer is thinking about and to hear community feedback. The planning group, led by Noli Zosa, has supported the project from the beginning, but with concerns about what will happen to current residents. In August, Martinez told the group that city housing commission rules blocked giving the current residents priority. But she went back to the housing commission and it looks like the poorer residents will be able to come back once construction ends.
Housingworks’ plans for the 2.9-acre property remain in flux. While the group is seeking zoning that will allow up to 188 apartments, the current thinking is around 108 units. The property is near a bus line, which means it gets more apartments and it’s affordable, which means parking requirements are relaxed.
Martinez says that affordable housing projects tell apartment applicants that they can have a limited number of cars and that management will be checking.
“We find people looking at North Park from El Cajon or Chula Vista wouldn’t think of getting rid of their cars,” Martinez says. “We keep track of cars our residents have – market-rate developers don’t have to.”
Several residents, including LilliBelle and Jimmy, and the former property manager, say they still feel like they don’t know what will happen next.
They praised their previous landlord, who’d set their rent $560 a month many years earlier, and told Jimmy to spend the rest of your money on something for himself, he says. They came from the Philippines and did what work came for them; and now Jimmy is on social security while Lillibelle keeps working
They’ve gone to a couple of planning group meetings, and they’re worried about what will happen. As they understand it, community housing works will help them find a place to live and help them move. But the plan they keep hearing about changes with each discussion.
“First they say 180 apartments, then they say 120, now we hear 105,” Jimmy says. “Neighbors say they will tear down those buildings first and we can stay in ours until that building is finished. But that doesn’t sound right.”