Barbara Rodriguez stands on the steps of her Bicknell Avenue apartment. She returned to the apartment after being evicted in 2008 because the owner wanted to convert the units into condos.

(photo by Ashley Archibald)

BICKNELL AVENUE — Each year, City Hall’s Housing Division reports out on the number of affordable units it helped create within Santa Monica over the previous reporting period.

The numbers over the past five years have varied, sometimes topping 200 and occasionally sinking as low as 28, as it did in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

Rarely, however, is there so small a showing as the most recent report, which suggested the division got the ball rolling on only 13 units of affordable housing as a part of Santa Monica’s efforts, and this despite City Hall’s authority to build over 1,000 units.

The report, available on the City Council website as an information item, doesn’t tell quite the whole story, and for a number of reasons, said Jim Kemper, housing administrator with City Hall.

Numerically, the units of housing produced varies depending on when the financing for the project came through, Kemper said, so projects can look as though they have a heavier concentration in one year over another, even if the actual work is completed at a different time.

That’s why, although there are 542 units in various stages of development throughout the city — many of which secured financing in the 2008-09 fiscal year — only 13 look like they got started this year.

But there’s more to it than that, Kemper said.

“It was Ellis-ed by the former developer,” Kemper said of the 13-unit complex. “They planned to take it from the market, evict the tenants and try to develop a condo project.”

Three and a half years ago, the developer, Bicknell Pacific LLS, decided to remove the 13 units, located at 217 Bicknell Ave., from the housing market, raze the building, and build high-end condominiums that would fetch a higher price in the then-burgeoning housing market.

The tenants who were there were given notice that they would soon be asked to get out under a provision of California law called the Ellis Act, which gives landlords the right to remove their properties from the rental market.

Barbara Rodriguez was one of those tenants.

She’d lived her entire adult life at 217 Bicknell Ave. She moved in from Venice at the age of 24 in 1975 with her husband.

Then, it was another subsection of small town America, the kind of place with stores you needed white gloves and a hat to enter, Rodriguez said.

“Now, it’s the playground of the rich and famous,” she said. “Everyone looks like a movie star.”

Bicknell Pacific LLS must have thought so too. Tenants were given until April 1, 2008 to move out.

Rodriguez, who had been recently laid off, moved in with her family in the San Fernando Valley.

She felt cut adrift.

Her home had been taken. Her job with Pepperdine University now outsourced to a private company, leaving her cash-strapped.

She tried to stay positive, and reeducate herself with classes in physical therapy, but with little success.

Then, a year ago, she started hearing whispers.

The Housing Department, in partnership with Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a nonprofit devoted to the creation of affordable housing, had intervened and purchased the property, and begun the work of rehabbing the building, which the former developer had allowed to fall into disrepair.

Broken windows had been held together with tape, rather than replaced, and everything from the roof to the plumbing was in dire need of repair.

“We purchased it, and worked with the city to rehab the units that were there into 13 units of affordable housing,” said Maegan Pearson, of Community Corporation.

That was good news for Rodriguez.

When properties are Ellis-ed, and then returned to the housing market, the original tenants must be notified and asked if they would like to return if they signed a form at the beginning of the Ellis process instructing the landlord to do so.

The first time those apartments are rented out, they come back into the rental market at the rents charged when the landlord originally removed them.

Three and a half years after they were originally evicted, most of 217 Bicknell’s residents had moved on.

Two, however, including Rodriguez, jumped at the chance to return to their old stomping grounds.

After $4.45 million of invested redevelopment money, the building looked nothing like its previous self.

Formerly mint green, it’s now a normal shade of beige, with a courtyard of drought resistant landscaping and even more drought resistant Astroturf.

Every piece of the apartments were replaced, including plumbing, roofing, heaters, cabinets and counter tops.

“When I came back, everything was different, recreated,” Rodriguez said. “But I was looking out the window, and it was the same views.”

Rodriguez moved back into the unit a month ago.

She’s mostly finished the process of getting new furniture — she sold all of hers when she moved out — and only has one room left to unpack.

“I’m getting my life back,” Rodriguez said, smiling. “I’m recreating it.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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