Friday, June 26, 2009

Ridgecrest Tenants Organize

Tenants in the city of Ridgecrest, California are rising up and organizing to face a serious housing crisis triggered by a statewide real estate scam. We've been most fortunate at Tenants Together to have the opportunity to work with these inspiring tenants who have stood up for their rights, are working to form a new tenants association, and are pushing for local legislation that will help renters keep their homes -- renters who face eviction due to no fault of their own.

La Mirage Tenants outside the City Council Chambers in Ridgecrest, California

According to media reports, from publications such as Voice of San Diego and the News Review, a one James McConville (yes, Con-ville, a name almost too perfect to be true) of Freemont, CA, orchestrated an elaborate statewide mortgage fraud scheme in which he set up "straw buyers" to unwittingly purchase residential properties. Straw buyers were led to believe they were lending their good credit scores to McConville in exchange for a few thousand dollars so that he could take out mortgages in their names. The buyers believed the loans and properties would be promptly transferred out of their names. In reality the loans remained in the straw buyers' names. Buyers didn't realize they owned the properties and so were not paying the mortgages. Meanwhile, the properties were rented to unsuspecting tenants. Hundreds of these properties have now gone into foreclosure in places like San Diego, Escondido, and Ridgecrest and as a result hundreds of innocent tenants have lost their homes.

The community of Ridgecrest has been hit particulary hard by the ripple effects of the mortgage scam. Not only is the city experiencing mass foreclosures, but tenants have been served invalid eviction notices and have been told to pay rent to McConville's management company, Diamond House Development, even when there was no clear indication that the rent was being legitimately collected on behalf of the actual owners of the property. To make matters worse the isolated community has a very low vacancy rate and many evicted tenants cannot find places to move to.

Tenants Together received numerous calls from Tenants at La Mirage wanting to know their rights and wanting to make sense of the foreclosure notices they were receiving.

It immediately became clear that the Ridgecrest city government needed to step in and address the city's housing crisis. Tenants began to organize and attend city council meetings demanding that the city take action. Tenants Together initially met with groups of tenants over the phone and then visited Ridgecrest in June where they participated in a city-hosted town hall meeting along with representatives from Greater Bakersfield Legal Assitance and the Kern County Housing Authority. Tenants packed the City Hall chambers to learn more about thier rights and to voice their concerns and demands. City Council members present insisted that they had received the message and would take action.


Tenants in La Mirage are continuing to work together and plan to establish a Ridgecrest tenants association to make certain that tenants will continue to have a voice and continue to be heard.


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