Dozens of formerly homeless tenants of the Occidental hotel face eviction if they don’t meet the rent increase.
SAN DIEGO — Dozens of Bankers Hill tenants are once again facing homelessness at the Occidental Hotel in Bankers Hill, where the new owner has raised his rent.
Tenants said they were devastated and rallied against their rent increases with the help of Tenants United and People Assisting The Homeless (PATH).
For many, their rent is now over $1,000. Many are elderly, disabled, on fixed incomes and homeless before moving into hotels and cannot afford the 10% or more in rent.
“I was scared. Scared. I’m not going to live in my car anymore,” said current tenant Julie Munson.
Almost two years ago, Steve Langal couldn’t afford to pay rent. He went from life on the streets to an Alpha Project tent. With Father Joe’s help, he was able to rent a room at Western Hotel in the 400 block of Elm Street.
“I live off Social Security and barely pay rent now,” Langal said.
His new home is at the Occidental Hotel in a single room known as SRO for low income people.
Many are 250 square foot furnished rooms with a shared bathroom or toilet.
“I’m not asking for the Taj Mahal, and I know I won’t get it here. But still, I like having my place,” Langal said.
United Tenantsan advocate for affordable and safe housing, legally represents the dozens of Occidental Hotel tenants and fights against what they see as illegal reviews and bullying.
“There are a series of problems. The reviews themselves are invalid for a number of reasons,” said Rafael Bautista, Tenants United. “Receiving this notice is almost like a deathblow because tenants have nowhere to go.”
Tenants also say they are being bullied by management and that amenities such as cable have been taken down. They believe the rooms are being converted to Airbnb.
CBS 8 tried to enter the hotel to speak to a representative, but the door was locked. CBS 8 emailed and called the office and got no response.
Tenants said management gave them a lawyer’s business card to discuss rent issues. Listed on the card was Rachael Callahan, ESQ. with San Diego evictions. A call and an email were not returned.
There’s a bigger problem with the lack of ORS in San Diego. ORS is essential in the transition from homelessness, but it is disappearing in San Diego.
PATH found this year there are 462 units in buildings that have been sold, for sale or lost in San Diego; that’s more than 400 people likely to live on the streets.
“The reality is that when you take these units off the market, they don’t get replaced; there is no level of affordability equal to what already existed,” said Kalei Levy, housing supervisor at PATH.
“During my freshman year in San Diego, my first semester of law school, I had been living in my car for several weeks. And Occidental is the SRO I stayed in to qualify for the finals,” Elo-Rivera said.
We asked the chairman of the board about the issue, and he says that while it won’t help western tenants, he is working to protect and add ORS in any Civic core redevelopment.
“Part of what I’ve asked for is an assessment of the inclusion of SROs in this redevelopment; we need more. Again, this is a critical rung on the housing ladder,” Elo-Rivera said.
Mr. Langal says that despite being disabled, he will not stop climbing this ladder.
“If you can survive living on the streets, you can survive just about anything. I don’t know if I can say I can survive this bullshit. But I’m just going to say I’m going to do my best,” Langal said.
CBS 8 contacted the San Diego Housing Commission, working with the city council on an ordinance to better protect SRO, but that does not include rent control. It stalled in 2021.
The Commission said that “proposed changes to the SRO Ordinance remain under review, subject to presentation to the Land Use and Housing Committee and, if approved, to City Council. No date has been set for the presentation to the committee.
The Commission also said the Occidental single-occupancy property is a market rate property that is subject to State Assembly Bill 1482, signed into law in 2019, which limits rent increases to 5% plus the percentage change in the cost of living for the region in which the property is located, or 10%, whichever is lower.
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