Caltrans: 'Not in Our Interest to Evict Tenants'

State transportation agency responds to accusations of ‘inter-agency fight,’ unfair evictions

Published : Monday, April 10, 2017 | 5:47 AM

Caltrans has responded to comments by a tenants’ attorney two weeks ago in which he blamed an “inter-agency fight” between the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the California Housing Finance Agency (Cal FHA) for evictions of local renters along the 710 Corridor.

Attorney Christopher Sutton told Pasadena Now March 30 that by evicting Pasadena renters from their longtime homes in Pasadena, Caltrans was “trying to game the system.”

“They are stealing money from the California Housing Finance Agency,” Sutton said, “and they are stealing purchase opportunities from these tenants,”

“By evicting low-income tenants,” said Sutton, “Caltrans gets to sell the properties as empty, at market value, and does not have to share the proceeds with Cal FHA. So, it’s an inter-agency fight, in which the Caltrans tenants are pawns.”

Sutton told Pasadena Now that the agency squabble derives from two recently passed pieces of state legislation authored by State Senator Carol Liu — SB 416 and SB 560. Together, the bills mandate that when an affordable housing tenant buys the property where they are living from Caltrans — at a price based upon their income — the net difference between the reduced sale price and the market value is a lien that is owned by the California Housing Finance Agency.

“By evicting low-income tenants,” says Sutton, “Caltrans gets to sell the properties as empty, at market value, and does not have to share the proceeds with Cal FHA. So, its an inter-agency fight, in which the Caltrans tenants are pawns… “It’s not in the state of California’s interest to evict these tenants.”

However, according to Lauren Wonder, Caltrans District 7 Chief, Media Relations & Public Affairs, Sutton is both correct and incorrect in describing Caltrans’ position regarding the eviction of renters.

As Wonder explained, “The attorney is correct when he states that ‘It’s not in the state of California’s interest to evict these tenants.’ SB 416 removed the surface route as an alternative for the SR-710 proposed project. This cleared the way for Caltrans to take the other necessary steps to move forward with selling the properties,” she continued. “SB580, passed in late 2016, adds historic properties into the priority of who has first rights to purchase properties and under what terms.

“SB 580 may delay sales of some of the properties,” she added.

According to Wonder, Caltrans has now officially begun to divest properties purchased in the Pasadena section of the formerly proposed 710 corridor in order to “get out of the landlord business,” as both she and Sutton described the situation.

As Wonder explained the legislation in question, “The intent of the Roberti and Liu bills is to provide a path toward home ownership for these current and former tenants at a price based on their income and financial abilities, not to evict them.”

“The Notice of Conditional Offer Prior to Sale was mailed out and published on December 16, 2016 for the Phase 1 properties,” she continued. “Due to the unique process involved, it is anticipated that escrows will take about a year to close. We anticipate the process for some Phase 2 properties to begin in late 2017. The timeframe for phase 3 depends on the approved project alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, which is scheduled for release fall 2017.”

Asked if Caltrans was working from, or had established a formal “exit plan,” Wonder said, “The process is laid out in the regulations governing sales of homes. We are complying with all laws applicable to the landlord/tenant relationship while we move toward the sales of these properties. We are still receiving responses from the current Notice of Conditional Offer Prior to Sale. We expect to hear from all recipients by mid-April.”

“There is no strategy to follow one path versus the other,” Wonder added, in detailing the sales process. “It is simply following the letter of the law as outlined in the regulations to provide a path toward home ownership for existing tenants, a sense of community, and stability for the cities.”

Wonder also emphasized, however, that Caltrans had no plans to evict tenants in order to sell the homes, despite the claims of at least three local renters served with eviction notices, one of whom was served with eviction papers immediately after a judge had dismissed Caltrans’ initial eviction order against her.

Bridgit Bergman told the Pasadena City Council two weeks ago that her eviction case had been recently dismissed because the agency continued to collect rent from her after a 60-day notice, but according to Sutton, Caltrans then immediately served her with a new 60-day notice and said they planned to file a new lawsuit to evict her.

Bergman, 77, told the City Council she has lived in her Wigmore Avenue home for 50 years.

“That is not the spirit and intent of the law and regulations,” said Wonder, who added that, “Current eviction notices are based on non-compliance with residential rental agreements. Non-compliance would include non-payment of rent, falsification of income information in financial disclosures and/or subletting. One unlawful detainer action has been sealed by the court at the request of the tenant, and therefore, we cannot discuss information contained in the court file.”

Wonder also dismissed Sutton’s characterizations of any “inter-agency” feud between Caltrans and the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA), as “incorrect.”

“Caltrans has a good working relationship with CalFHA,” said Wonder.

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