The owner was a willing seller and Los Angeles County an avid buyer. Escrow was due to close on Tuesday for the county’s 10th purchase under a state program to convert hotels and motels in distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic into homes for the homeless.
Then the good news got messy when activists, including attorneys who represented some of the motel residents, came to the county on Friday with a shocking complaint: the extended-stay motel management at Studio 6 in Commerce locked out residents who lived there had months, or even years, forcing some to become homeless without the relocation benefits to which they were entitled under state law.
The situation became controversial over the weekend when activists gathered at the entrance to aid about a dozen remaining residents and management installed a locked fence across the narrow driveway to the parking lot to keep them out.
This week activists continued their vigil outside the fence calling for support for residents who included a single mother with three children and a three-generation family with a disabled grandmother who said she spent three days in her car after she had been locked out.
Surprised by the explosion, the county postponed the end of the deed to December 17 and sent its relocation advisor back to the motel to see if residents had legal leases and were unlawfully evicted and refused relocation payments.
The terms of sale require the owner to deliver the building with no residents, and any relocation benefits owed would be paid by the county, officials said.
A receptionist who answered the phone at the motel said the manager, identified by residents as Mr. Patel, was not available. But the worker, Harry Bacta, denied that any guests had lived as permanent residents of the motel. He said everyone was notified when they checked in that December 3rd would be their last day.
“Some of them are like regulars who go and come back from time to time.” Said Bacta. “None of them are long term guests.”
Activist Patty Chavez, right, speaks to residents who are inside a fence inhabited by homeless people who live at the Studio 6 Motel in Commerce.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
District officials said they worked furiously over the weekend to stabilize the situation but have not yet determined how many, if any, of the residents have tenant rights.
“We are currently working with advocacy organizations that have become aware of the situation to ensure that no one is displaced from the hotel into homelessness and to ensure that everyone who has tenant status has all rights and benefits you’ll have the right, “said Phil Ansell, director of the county’s homeless group.
The tenant relocation advisor, OPC, asks hotel residents and other people who claim a tenancy.
In his first assessment, the relocation consultant determined that only the on-site manager was qualified for the lease. During contract negotiations, the county was led by the owner to believe there weren’t any guests who had stayed for nearly 30 days, Ansell said.
Several residents told The Times that they had paid rent regularly, either from their own resources or with government rent support.
They said the manager would not show them receipts and often imposed unfair fines.
The question of who qualifies as a tenant might depend on a nuance of state law. If a person lives more than 30 days, they are considered a renter with a litany of rights granted by state and federal laws, including evacuation protection, said Navneet Grewal, a disability rights attorney in California who has helped some of them who stay in Studio 6. Often, she said, residential motels force people to leave just before 30 days so they can’t get protection.
This is sometimes called the “28-day shuffle,” and it’s prohibited by law, she said.
Many hotels and motels are used by social welfare offices to house some of the poorest and most vulnerable populations in the county. Some of them receive vouchers to subsidize their stay. The rooms are a lifeline for many who would otherwise be on the street.
Some of the residents said they had a well-established residence in the building.
“I moved here [in] August 2019, ”said Genevieve Marilyn Green. “I get mail here.”
Green shares a unit with three infants and toddlers who receive rental support through LA County’s Family Solutions program.
She said she was working with a homeless agency to find permanent shelter but had to refuse a new home to quarantine after contracting the coronavirus.
Mikki Morris (left) and Genevieve Marilyn Green stand in a fence that was built around the Studio 6 Motel in Commerce over the weekend.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
“We should be here two or three months and we should be housed,” said Mikki Morris, 65, who lives with two sons, one of whom is severely disabled and gets around on a hiker. “The pandemic made that impossible. We were stuck here. “
Morris said management manipulated and intimidated many of the 30+ families that once lived there to leave.
“We were lied to, manipulated, bamboozled, everything you can think of,” she said.
Hope Golden, 55, who holds on to crutches, said she, her daughter and son-in-law and 2-year-old son are not receiving rental support and are up to date with their rent.
But when she got back from the bank on November 30th, she was locked out of her room and her personal belongings were missing.
She said she wrote a police report and slept in her car in the parking lot for three nights.
“I have nowhere to go,” said her son-in-law Amis Streeter, who said he lost his job in Universal City because of the pandemic. “I need my things. You cleared out all of my things. I do not know where it is. “
Lucia Veloz, 40, had been a housekeeper at the motel since 2018, but was released in October after suffering a back injury. She remembered meeting families, some of whom had lived there for three years and were packed into small rooms as a last resort. Every month they were told by management that they had to leave for at least one day. Then Veloz cleaned up their rooms.
“Many of these families have nothing to do. That’s why they’re there from the start, ”she said in Spanish. “I feel awful because they lost their home and I lost my job.”
Veloz is now fighting like these families – with government support and unsure how she will pay the bills. She is still unemployed and recovering from COVID-19 that made several members of her family sick.
Heidi Marston, director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said the issue appeared on her team’s radar late Friday night when district officials asked for help finding shelter for displaced persons. They were told about two people and a family who lived in the parking lot and needed help.
They could take the family to a motel.
LA County is paying $ 14.95 million for the four-story, 81-room motel. It’s next to a gas station in a noisy triangle between Freeway 5 and East Slauson Avenue, a busy truck route.
When the sale is complete, it will be the 10th building the county has purchased through Project Homekey, a government program that funds cities and counties to quickly house thousands of homeless people by buying motels and hotels who are financially weakened by the pandemic.
The City of Los Angeles is purchasing an additional 10 hotels under the same program.
Two of the hotels in the county are currently rented to Project Roomkey, another government program designed to provide temporary housing for the homeless during the pandemic.
Studio 6, owned by a company called Anmol, wasn’t a participant in Project Roomkey.
“It’s just ironic that in implementing this program to get people off the streets, they are creating homelessness,” said Jasmine Gonzalez, organizer of the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. She’s been helping some families at the Commerce Motel.
“It’s a lack of communication. It’s just amazing that this is happening. “
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