But there’s uncertainty and a downside to this anti-blight campaign—a collaboration between San Bernardino’s Economic Development Agency (EDA) and a nonprofit outfit out of Orange County. Sure, officials have set out to transform 19th and Sunrise into a clean, safe neighborhood, but this means that the people who live there right now are going to be uprooted—and there’s no iron-clad guarantee they’ll end up getting one of the renovated apartments as a replacement.
Making the waters even murkier, not everyone at City Hall thinks the rehab will work.
Problems with the area—named for 19th Street and Sunrise Lane—go years back. The area consisted of 61 multi-family fourplexes that were originally owned by one company. But about 20 years ago, the owner began selling individual properties so that the fourplexes ended up owned by “many different owners with many different standards of renting,” according to Interim Executive EDA director Emil Marzullo.
The end result? A hodgepodge of apartments that fell into disrepair and, in some cases, ended up occupied by less-than-neighborly renters.
As a fix-it, EDA officials opted to spend more than $1 million in agency dollars plus federal funds to buy up the properties. A nonprofit group, the San Clemente-based Mary Erickson Community Housing, was tapped with handling and carrying out the project: purchasing and rehabilitating 100 apartment units, purchasing the remaining 46 buildings and carrying out demolition of a total of 184 apartments.
But in the end, the area will end up with 144 fewer apartments (plus fewer housing units) and not everyone who was living there will end up in a renovated unit. Officials say the intention isn’t to leave anyone scrambling for a new place elsewhere—but concede that could happen. In fact, by federal law, the city is required to spend money to help re-locate the “displaced.”
“The goal is to displace as few people as possible,” says Carl Dameron of Dameron Communications, the outfit handling public relations for the project.
Current residents will not automatically get a renovated unit but instead “will be asked to apply” to live in one. And they’ll be subject to certain criteria, income verification and screening. Felons with 5-year-old convictions (or older), for example, will be considered for the renovated housing, says Carey Jenkins, EDA’s Director of Housing and Community Development. Those with more recent offenses will not. An attempt to get the “bad apples” out? Maybe.
“If you are one of the people who have been causing problems over there and police records show this, then we’re not going to let you back in,” Dameron says.
Officials also trumpet another aspect of the project: building new single-family homes and senior apartments. But since the housing market is in the toilet, this proposed construction will remain on the drawing board until economic conditions improve. And who knows when that will be?
“There’s no reason to build them and let them sit there vacant,” Dameron says.
The 19th and Sunrise project has proven divisive for local officials—with Mayor Pat Morris supporting it and City Attorney Jim Penman slamming it.
“I know from past experiences that those properties will be trashed in a short period of time,” Penman has said in press reports.
Clearly the plan is to fix up a neighborhood. But even the best of intentions can end up dogged by politics, market forces and unintended consequences.