Placer County challenged over eviction plans

Attorneys argue Placer proposal doesn’t go far enough to help tenants
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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The future is uncertain for Maria Murguia as Placer County moves to evict tenants of North Auburn’s Bell Garden Apartments and tear down two 68-year-old buildings. Murguia has lived in an apartment at the former World War II Army hospital since 2000. Her three daughters were born in Auburn but they’re due to be forced to leave as the county moves to demolish the A Avenue buildings. “We feel a little sad because we have to move,” Murguia said. “But we’re happy because we’re getting help. The cheapest we’ve found so far is in the (nearby subdivision, Auburn) Greens. But it’s a little more.” On Tuesday, lawyers with the Auburn office of Legal Services of Northern California challenged the county’s relocation plan. It provides a total of $50,000 to provide relocation advisory assistance, moving expenses and hardship assistance. Herb Whitaker, Legal Services of Northern California managing attorney, said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that the plan is “grossly inadequate” and would contribute to the homeless ranks by not providing the assistance required under state and federal laws. Whitaker said Bell Gardens, which is owned by the county, now rents apartments to 25 families with 70 people. A total of 21 are children, he said. “We don’t think the county wants to contribute to the homeless population by kicking people out who are ranked as having very low incomes,” Whitaker said. Current rent is $491 a month for 20 of the apartments and 11 of the 25 rental units have tenants with family income of less than $15,800 a year, he said. Facing a legal wrangle, the Board of Supervisors heard from Facility Services Director Jim Durfee and Whitaker and Legal Services of Northern California staff attorney Marina Sideris before continuing consideration of the relocation plan to late February. The non-profit organization provides legal assistance for low-income clients in Placer County. Durfee told supervisors that the Bell Gardens buildings have come to the end of their useful life and the county intends to stop leasing there. “We understand that moving out of the apartments is difficult because they represent some of the most affordable housing in the North Auburn area,” Durfee said. Tenants signed off on rental agreements when they moved in stating that they would be living on a month-to-month basis and not eligible to relocate as a displaced tenant, Durfee said. Because they signed the agreement, none are eligible for full relocation benefits, he said. But Martina Santana, a resident at Bell Garden Apartments for the past two years, said that she wasn’t given a target date by her landlord when she would have to leave. “There was not a word from the landlord,” she said through a translator. Whitaker said language and literacy difficulties didn’t allow many tenants to understand that they were temporary occupants of Bell Gardens. “The population is 80 percent Hispanic and most of them are mono-lingual,” Whitaker said. Eleven tenants were identified as hardship cases with special needs or extremely low incomes and could be compensated with security deposit compensation and first month’s rent, Durfee said. Supervisor Jim Holmes suggested a postponement in discussion to late April to give staff time to respond to Legal Services of Northern California’s presentation. Supervisors agreed to allow staff and attorneys to continue to discuss the issue before the board’s Feb. 28 meeting.