For the past several years, rent prices in Santa Barbara’s South County have skyrocketed. As they continue to rise (according to data collected by Zumper, the average price of a one-bedroom apartment in the City of S.B. is currently $2,900 a month), tenants are being displaced for a myriad of reasons — whether it be properties being sold, zoning issues, or marital conflicts — with limited options due to a dwindling supply of rentals.
During the pandemic, local and federal governments enacted moratoriums preventing evictions, but the statewide protections ended in March 2022 and now the backlog of evictions are moving their way through the courts. In Santa Barbara, this displacement is affecting every corner of the community, and this week the Independent brings you three different stories of tenants who are all being asked to leave their properties by the end of the month.
Out with the Old, in with the New
For over 30 years, massage therapist Thea Altman had lived in the same blue clapboard house on Castillo Street. The home is tucked right off Mission Street near the Oak Park neighborhood on a block full of classic homes, one of the most ideal places to live in the downtown area. For three decades, she spent her life in that home, raising her children, tending a lush garden, and renting from the same property owner, with whom she always had a positive relationship.
But when the owner of the home passed away just over a year ago, he split his properties among his children, leaving the Castillo Street home to his son, Richard Scott, who lives up north in Chico.
When the property changed hands, Altman, now in her eighties, began to worry about her future. For 34 years, she had existed on a month-to-month lease, which was an informal agreement between her and the original owner. The new property owner was unreachable, she said, and instead she had to run everything through his brother, who lived in Santa Barbara and acted as the property manager.
She attempted to ask for a one-year lease, hoping that would give her enough time to figure out the next steps, but she says that all requests went unanswered. Then, at the end of May 2023, she received a message from the property manager that a “man from the bank” would be coming by the property. The owner, she said, explained that he was seeking a loan out on the home, but gave no indication that he was looking to sell the property.
But a few days later, Altman says she was blindsided by a group of people who came by the open house, led by a man who gave a full tour of the home, complete with photos and video. In the following weeks, the property manager messaged that more people — a plumber, a pest inspector — would be coming by the house. Each time, Altman said, she was made to believe they were helping fix up the property, which she admitted needed a lot of work.
By mid-June, she began to suspect that the house was up for sale. A young couple, who had visited on several occasions, finally broke the news to her when she asked why they were using measuring tape in various rooms.
“They came in very sweet,” Altman said, “and they told me they were the new buyers.”
At this point, Altman didn’t know her options. She says she felt rushed, and the couple asked if she would be able to leave in less than two weeks by July 1. In an attempt to gain a bit more time, she says she negotiated with the couple and unknowingly signed away her right for a one-year lease by agreeing to accept a $10,000 relocation allowance to vacate by July 31.
After signing the agreement, she began to contact legal assistance and enlist the help of her daughter, Kia Medina, who was still living in town. But by that point, she was told, she had no option but to honor the agreement.
“I was beside myself. I couldn’t think; I couldn’t sleep,” Altman told the Independent. “I signed stuff I wished I wouldn’t have. I couldn’t make sense of it.”
To her daughter, the whole situation seemed like another example of the city’s housing crisis changing the face of the community. Longtime residents like her mother, who worked as an artist, herbalist, and massage therapist, were being forced out in favor of new wealth.
“This so-called Santa Barbara community is growing further away from what it used to be,” Medina said. “And the original heart and soul of Santa Barbara — a small, beach, hippie town — is being mowed over by those who don’t give two shits about other people.”
With her budget close to $1,500 a month, Altman said she is struggling to find another place and has expanded her search to Carpinteria, Goleta, and beyond.
“It’s really sad,” Altman said. “I just want to say to people: call rental housing mediation before you sign anything.”
No Place for the Youth
In a social media post, Five Directions Community Boxing Club manager Jairo Gonzalez announced that the gym would no longer be operating out of their space on Aero Camino in Goleta. As of July 10, he explained, they would be forced to vacate in compliance with an eviction order signed by Sheriff Bill Brown. In the video, Gonzales shows the once-bustling gym now empty, equipment lined along the walls outside.
Since opening during the pandemic, the gym has offered free classes to the youth and existed through community donations, renting the same space just off Hollister near the airport. In just under two years, the program has already built a strong youth boxing team, including the best 8-year-old boxer in the country.
But a few months ago, he said, the City of Goleta received complaints about the gym and soon he got a call from a code compliance officer informing him that the space was not zoned properly for a community boxing gym. The current zoning was for manufacturing and industrial, he explained, while the gym needs to be in a commercial zone.
He said the city was helpful at first in letting them know they were not in the wrong, even giving them as much as two months — or until the end of July — to find a new place.
But, as with Altman’s situation, Gonzalez said that there was a lack of communication as the process accelerated. He said that this started when the property owner, not the landlord he usually worked with, began to ask about the organization. According to Gonzalez, it was presented as if the owner wanted to “cut a check” or help the community boxing gym.
But instead, the gym was served on June 12 with an unlawful detainer, notifying them that the owner would be reclaiming the property. But on the document, which Gonzalez shared via social media, no reasons were specified for the eviction nor was there any mention of a court date.
Gonzalez later found out, when he received the order to vacate signed by Sheriff Brown, that there was a court date scheduled for June 29 that they had missed.
“But it happened, and since we didn’t show up to defend ourselves to get the appropriate time to work out, we lost that court case,” he said.
Gonzalez and his wife are currently looking for a space to continue the gym, but he said that the process was discouraging, and it was disappointing that they were never offered a chance to sign a one-year lease or given a written copy of their original rental contract.
“Many things that happened here weren’t right or even the proper way of doing things,” he said, “but yet we’re at fault and we’re the ones that have to suffer and go through having to move now.”
He said that they “hope to find a new place soon,” but all classes are canceled until further notice.
Even Millionaires Can’t Find a Home
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a Santa Barbara County judge ordered movie star Kevin Costner’s estranged wife Caroline Baumgartner to vacate the Field of Dreams star’s $145 million compound by the end of the month, denying her request for an extension through August.
The sprawling property, which spans 10 acres of beachside in Carpinteria and includes a full baseball field, has been at the center of the couple’s messy divorce proceedings.
But even the stay-at-home mom, who claims in court documents that she needs $248,000 a month to help support her and their children’s lifestyle (Costner’s lawyer countered with $30,000 a month), still has trouble finding a place to live in Santa Barbara.
In the proceedings, her attorneys argued that the judge should give her more time because of the over-saturated rental market and the “extreme disparity” in the child support amount offered by Costner.
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