Gentrification Plan Riles Up Bay Area Tenants

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Tenants of an apartment complex in Redwood City, California, sued its new owner in Federal Court this week, claiming the company bought the property with the intent of kicking out Latinos and appealing to young white and Asian workers in the tech industry.
     The Buckingham Apartments Tenants’ Association sued 180 Buckingham Property and its parent company, Trion Properties, claiming they violated the Fair Housing Act by buying a Latino-dominated apartment complex intending to evict them to make way for white tech workers.
     “This mass eviction has the purpose or effect of displacing non-white residents and families with children in favor of primarily Caucasian residents who work at high-tech companies on the mid-Peninsula, such as Facebook and Oracle,” the association says in the complaint.
     Buckingham Apartments is a 48-unit apartment building situated in an unincorporated area of Redwood City known as North Fair Oaks. The area is also known as “Little Michoacan” due to the large Hispanic population in the area.
     This past July, Trion Properties bought the complex and soon after announced its intention to “rebrand it.”
     In a statement announcing its acquisition, Trion did not disguise its intention to remake the property to appeal to tech workers, touting its proximity to Google, Oracle and other companies and noting Stanford University’s imminent plans to build a 1.5 million square foot auxiliary campus in Redwood City.
     “Rents at this property are currently 40 percent below market value, indicating tremendous upside potential,” Farhan Mahmood, director of acquisitions at Trion Properties, said in a statement posted on the real estate blog The Registry. “By repositioning and renovating this asset, we plan to bring rents up to market value while delivering an institutional-quality product at a huge discount to newer construction.”
     Plaintiff Juan Jimenez says these plans are illegal.
     Jimenez was served with an 60-day notice to move out on July 20, about six days after Trion bought the residence, after having lived there with his sister for two years. During that time, his monthly rent went from $1,500 to $1,700.
     Resident Laura Hernandez, who occupied a one-bedroom apartment, was also served a 60-day eviction notice in mid-July. Hernandez is also a plaintiff in the case.
     According to the U.S. Census, the population of North Fair Oaks is 73 percent Latino.
     Hernandez and Jiminez say Trion has a history of gentrification at the expense of minority populations in California, according to the complaint. The complaints cites a Trion project in Koreatown in Los Angeles; an apartment complex on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, and its portfolio of East Bay properties as examples of its intent to capitalize off displacement of minority and low-income populations.
     “Defendants’ plans to attract residents of a ‘high-income demographic’ exclude Latinos residing in the Buckingham Apartments, Latinos in North Fair Oaks, or Latinos in the San Francisco Peninsula, and that defendants were aware that their plans would exclude such residents when they made them,” the association says in the complaint.
     Housing affordability in the Bay Area has been a lingering issue that some say has reached a crisis point.
     Business Insider compiled a list of the most expensive cities to pay rent in the United States, with San Francisco topping the list. Nearby Oakland ranked fourth and San Jose took the fifth spot. Expensive rental prices have extended to other communities on the Southern Peninsula, including Palo Alto, Sunnyside, Menlo Park and Redwood City.
     The association’s claims against Trion include violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and the California Civil Rights Act, unfair business practices and breach of contract. The tenants want compensatory and punitive damages along with an order prohibiting further evictions.
     They are represented by Liza Cristol-Deman of the firm Brancart & Brancart, Jason Tarricone of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, and Christina Von der Ahe Rayburn with Orrick, Harrington & Sutcliffe.
     Trion did not return an email requesting comment by press time.
     

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