EASTSIDE — While landlords often complain about City Hall being unresponsive to their concerns, it is a group of residents living at a city-owned mobile home park who say city officials are the ones who are turning a deaf ear.
More than a dozen residents at Mountain View Mobile Home Park are refusing to allow inspectors into their units as part of a roughly $6 million infrastructure improvement project, claiming City Hall has refused to comply with proper construction guidelines and will mandate costly repairs that low-income residents can’t afford.
Most residents own their units and rent their spaces, or land, from City Hall. The park is subject to rent control.
Residents said they have asked City Hall numerous times for design specs so that they can purchase new mobile homes instead of making costly repairs, but City Hall has not released the information on what units would be compatible. City officials said they plan to do that, and come up with a low-cost loan program to purchase new units, once construction has been completed.
Belinda Van Sickle, president of the Mountain View Mobile Home Park Residents Association, said living there has been “like living in a war zone.”
“It feels like we are not living in Santa Monica, but some third world country with no environmental laws and no guidelines to protect residents,” she said.
City officials said the inspections are necessary to identify possible safety hazards that could be life threatening and must be completed before Southern California Edison will activate the new electrical system. The project includes new roads and curbs, plus a new sewer system and natural gas hookups instead of using propane, which can be dangerous.
Tuesday represented the last day for inspections. Of the 78 units occupied at the park, tenants in 15 have failed to comply, said Melissa Lindley, a senior administrative analyst with the Housing Division, who is overseeing the project.
City officials plan to ask for a court order granting them permission to enter the units. Residents who do not comply with the inspection warrants could face prosecution. Lindley said eviction has not been discussed.
“We’ve had a good experience to date as most people understand that we just want to make sure units are safe,” Lindley said. “We will work with anyone who shows they have a financial hardship.”
So far inspectors have found minimal safety violations — such as a lack of smoke detectors — that are inexpensive to fix, city officials said, and those who can show a financial hardship can qualify for financial assistance to make those repairs. Lindley said two tenants have made inquiries.
Van Sickle and tenant Cris Mcleod, who rents one of the few city-owned units, said some tenants are facing thousands of dollars worth of repairs and have still not been reimbursed for damages caused to their vehicles and other property during construction.
Lindley said residents whose property is damaged can talk with the site manager to work directly with the construction company or can file a complaint with risk management at City Hall, but Van Sickle claims she has not received a penny for damages she suffered. She has also filed for a rent decrease because she has lost the use of her parking space.
Construction began more than a year ago and the intensity of working in such a confined space for that length of time can create tension, which project manager Eric Bailey said could be the reason for the handful of residents holding back. Bailey said representatives from the Building and Safety Division have been on site nearly every day during construction, and while there are have been setbacks that occur with any project of this size, there have been no safety hazards or violations.
“It’s a big project, with heavy equipment, excavation and in area that is small with residents who quite frankly are used to being left alone,” Bailey said.
Bailey did admit that some residents had to be relocated when workers struck a gas pipe and heavy rains flooded the muddy streets, blocking access to a couple of units. Work had to be done after construction hours on one occasion to help clear the streets. Car wash coupons have been offered to residents to help keep their cars clean, along with air filters to cut down on the dust and debris, Bailey said.
“We are hoping that these residents can see the big picture of what the park will be when this is finished,” Bailey said. “The park will be a great place to live.”
Tenants appreciate the improvements being made, saying the park was in bad shape with leaky water pipes. They are grateful and don’t want to come off as being a nuisance, however, they feel City Hall has let them down by allowing the contractor to break the rules. They want some answers and guarantees before allowing inspectors in.
“The city is calling on all sorts of changes that will have a negative impact on us and they expect for us to pay for it,” said Van Sickle, who believes City Hall should have made it easier for tenants to know early on what types of new trailers they could buy before demanding upgrades. “The question on everybody’s list is when can we bring in new units.”