The Velasquez family has lived in a van the
last two weeks after the home they rented was "red-tagged" for unsafe
building code violations.
The Morgan Hill family of six, which
includes four boys age 10 to 18, is seeking any assistance they can find
in the local high-priced rental market. They have already sold almost
all their possessions they don't need, exhausted the assistance they
were eligible for through the city, and now rely on the kindness of
relatives and friends to gain just a temporary roof over their heads.
this week a hand-written sign on a piece of brown cardboard, tacked to a
tree in the Church Street home's front yard read, "Thanks to the city
of Morgan Hill we are homeless." On Wednesday the family, who has lived
in the home about two years, tried to sell the last of their belongings
in the latest of a series of recent moving sales. This time everything,
including tools, an outdoor portable grill, clothing, furniture and two
small television sets, was going for $1.
Velasquez, 50, said he has already sold all his tools in an effort to
raise money for a new place. They have nowhere to shower or cook. They
have eaten at Togo's, where both parents work, almost daily since they
were forced to move into their mini-van in the backyard of the property
near the intersection of San Pedro Avenue.
"I don't know what to
do," said mother Evelyn Velasquez, 47. "I have to go look for a place,
but the registration on my van is expired. My kids are traumatized."
Velasquez added it's essential they find a place before school starts
for the sake of the four boys who attend Morgan Hill Unified schools.
"red tag" notice on the home's front window - posted July 21 by the
city's building division staff - lists a number of hazards making it
unsafe to live in. "Unsanitary conditions" including a sewer leak, an
illegal structural addition with substandard foundation and broken
windows were listed as the reasons for the red tag.
About "two or
three times a year" a building in Morgan Hill is red-tagged for unsafe
or unhealthy conditions, City Manager Ed Tewes said. It's part of the
city's building code, and a red tag means the building is unsafe to
occupy until the violations are remedied.
"A red tag means there
are serious public health or life safety matters," Tewes said, though he
declined to comment on the specific facts of the Church Street case
because it is still open.
The property owner is responsible for
remediation, which can consist of one of three options - make repairs,
fence off the unsafe structure or demolish it, said Tewes. The property
owner has not yet decided how she will correct the violations.
the Velasquez' said they were given "30 minutes" to get their
belongings out of the home when it was red-tagged, Tewes said the notice
was preceded by a "yellow tag" for about two weeks. Per the city's
building code, a yellow tag serves as a kind of warning, allowing
residents to occupy the home only to remove their possessions.
Velasquez' tried to do that. They also received some help from the
city, which offers emergency housing assistance for residents in such
situations. That includes hotel vouchers, housing counseling and other
services through Project Sentinel, Tewes said.
said they received a hotel voucher for only one night from the city.
They can't afford to stay at area motels, which require them to rent at
least two rooms because of their numbers. They have applied for rental
units at apartment complexes, but those require an application fee of
about $30, which adds up after multiple applications, Antonio Velasquez
said. He tried to sleep in a tent in the home's front yard the first two
nights they were homeless, but it quickly became occupied by spiders.
have also tried to reach out to churches in south Santa Clara County,
but they are often met with skepticism and Gilroy service agencies are
not responsive to Morgan Hill residents, said Evelyn Velasquez, who is a
manager at Togo's in Vineyard Town Center. Wednesday night her
sister-in-law put the family up at a hotel.
The owner of the
property, Lena Le, said the Velasquez' caused the building code
violations. She said she has asked them to leave previously, but not
through formal legal means.
"They made a mess out of my house,"
Le said. "I don't know what to do. Right now we are working with some
lawyers to see what we can do." She added that the tenants allowed more
people to live on the property than she permitted.
dispute those claims. Evelyn Velasquez said the backyard was cleaner
Wednesday than when the family moved in two years ago, and the property
doesn't have enough room to house anyone else.
"I have four boys,
and I know I shouldn't have anybody else living here. There's only one
bathroom so it would be really crowded. Would I have people take a
number?" she laughed.
Antonio Velasquez added that his
brother-in-law fixed the plumbing problems at the house, but the
landlord refused to reimburse the tenant for the repairs.
family has not paid this month's $1,150 rent, and by California law they
might have gotten away without paying rent as soon as the building code
violations became apparent.
When a rental housing structure is
red-tagged and the property owner is at fault for the violations, the
landlord is responsible for making repairs, according to California
Apartment Association community affairs director Kirsten Carr.
The tenant does not have to pay rent until the violations are corrected, Carr added.
landlord has the responsibility to make sure a property or home is safe
for people to live there, and it complies with all codes," Carr said.
she added, many cases end up in dispute between the renter and
landlord, and the CAA encourages mediation in such situations.
Tenants left homeless can also seek relocation assistance from the Housing Industry Foundation, Carr said.
In the meantime, the family is upset as they try to avoid getting mired in a circle of blame.
afternoon, as he was moving some of the family's things into the van on
their way to the evening's motel room, Antonio Velasquez pointed to a
corner of the back yard, tucked against the fence and equipped with a
lawn chair with a sheet hanging above it for shade.
"Some days all I can do is sit there and think, 'What am I going to do?'" Velasquez said.
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