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Family Still Struggles as City Closes Unusual Housing Case

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

June 13 -- After eight months and more than $45,000 spent by a local landlord and the City to help relocate a family of six forced out of their homes, City attorneys say they have closed one of the most unusual housing cases they have ever seen.

Despite the unprecedented aid, the Joneses -- who were removed last fall from three rent-controlled bungalows in the Pico Neighborhood, where they had lived for four generations -- are on the verge of homelessness, unable to qualify for decent housing after ruining their credit helping to pay for temporary lodgings.

The final aid came in mid May, when the family’s former landlord, Ricco Ross, cut three checks totaling $19,200 to pay for permanent relocation fees. The checks were delayed five months while Ross worked with City attorneys to come up the money, City officials said.

"The City has expended a lot of time and energy to find affordable housing for the tenants in this case," said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky. "In a typical relocation, the owner must pay for the housing, period, until the tenancy is terminated and relocation fees paid.

“After that,” Radinsky said, “the tenants are on their own."

But this case, Radinsky said, was not typical.

In addition to the nearly $20,000 given under rent control provisions for permanent relocation fees, Ross and the City paid almost $25,000 for three months of temporary housing for the family, who moved into the Travel Lodge on Pico Boulevard, where they pay close to $1,275 a week for two rooms.

When it comes to where a displaced tenant must be housed or how much a landlord must spend while the tenant seeks new housing, the current guidelines are broad, Radinsky said.

"The general policy on temporary housing is that… the owner must house the tenants in a decent location,” Radinsky said.

The family was first housed at the motel by Ross after County health inspectors last September found the three bungalows the family lived in for close to 60 years to be uninhabitable.

At the time, the family paid $278 in rent for each bungalow.

Cecilia Jones -- who is still staying with her husband, mother, grandmother and two young children at the Travel Lodge -- said she is thankful for the assistance the family has received, but explained that they are still living on the edge after spending most of the money.

“We’re still struggling,” said Jones, who estimated the $6,000 the family has left is enough to meet rent for another month. “We spent most of the money on living, rent and paying off credit card debt.”

Jones said the family incurred thousands of dollars of debt after paying rent at the Travel Lodge for almost five months, from January to May, while the City worked with Ross, who struggled to come up with permanent relocation money of nearly $6,500 for each bungalow.

Now, Jones said, the family is having a difficult time finding an apartment due to a poor credit rating mostly incurred while paying rent at the motel.

"No one will rent to us because of the credit rating,” said Jones, “We looked for apartments in Culver City, two places in Santa Monica and the Palms. We just can’t find a place to live.”

The family, Jones said, was recently removed from the waiting list for Community Corporation, a Santa Monica-based non-profit that is the largest affordable housing provider in the City.

“The letter we received just said they couldn’t rent to us because of our credit,” Jones said. “Now we don’t know what we’re are going to do.”

The family took over paying the rent from the City at the Travel Lodge in January, nearly one month after the Rent Control Board allowed Ross to take the three bungalows the Joneses once called home off the market.

The board agreed with Ross in December that the repairs to the bungalows would cost more than what the property was worth. Ross paid nearly $450,000 for the property on Delaware Avenue in 2001.

That decision sent the Jones’ scrambling for new housing in or near Santa Monica, which is close to both work and the children’s’ schools.

They remain at the costly Travel Lodge, said Jones, because of its location and because it has amenities -- such as a kitchen with a stove and refrigerator -- that allows them to cook and save money on food.

“Just living every day is expensive, like spending money on such things a groceries,” Jones said.

While the situation is unfortunate, Radinsky said, the City has done its part to mediate and assist the family, and so has Ross, who has suffered financially and cooperated extensively to help relocate his former tenants.

"Mr. Ross was working diligently to come up with the money, and that was one of the reasons we were so patient,” said Radinsky. "Obviously, though, this case put both the tenants and owners in a tough situation."

Calling the case “very unusual,” Radinsky said he doesn’t believe the guidelines that dictate how to temporarily house tenants in the midst of a relocation need to be changed.

“There was an effort by both parties to find apartments, and for whatever reason, it didn't happen,” said Radinsky. “There was good faith by both owner and tenants.”

”In addition,” he said, “we were dealing with essentially three different tenancies. That was part of the long process.”

It remains unclear what plans Ross has for the bungalows, though there was talk by his former attorney that he might seek demolition permits.

Meanwhile, the Joneses estimate they have one month to find a place to live.

“After that,” said Cecelia, “we could be out of money. I don’t know what we are going to do. I just don’t know."
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