After searching for months, a family of four has only five days left to find suitable housing before being forced out of an apartment in a building sold by Fuller Theological Seminary to a developer. They are not alone in their plight.
Approximately nine other families remained in the six complexes that soon must be vacated, most on the verge of facing homelessness if they cannot find an apartment that is within their means.
The new owners of the property at 260 North Los Robles Avenue, Carmel Partners, gave notice in February to vacate all the sold properties by July 9.
Kidom Zom and his wife Jisu Lee first came from Korea seven years ago to pursue a Master of Divinity at Fuller and hopes of becoming a pastor. After graduating from Fuller two years ago, he and several of his friends were allowed to stay in the housing subsidized by Fuller, unable to afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment.
Now Zom and his family face the daunting unknown of where to turn, with almost no time left.
Zom’s single income as a Pastor at Full Gospel Church LA is supplemented by support from family from home. Zom said even the subsidized Fuller housing which he has now lost was costing more than half his monthly income toward rent.
“I am trusting God. I am praying everyday. My friends and everybody who I know are praying for me. I am not sure. I am just waiting. Five days left,” Zom said of his apartment search that has shown no results after 12 applications.
Some of the families which must leave have lived in the apartments for more than 10 years. One tenant said he planned to move everything he owns into storage and couch surf, unable to come up with enough money for first month’s rent and a deposit.
Up until the time that Fuller sold forty percent of their student housing to Carmel Partners two years ago, alumni, Fuller staff, and part time students were permitted to rent the apartments in the complex on Los Robles and Oakland Avenue. Fuller leased the units for $200 to $600 per month less than market rate apartments in the surrounding area.
With the sale of the complex, the seminary reverted to its original policy of offering housing only to its full time students. Staff, faculty, and alumni who did not fit the “student” criteria were asked to vacate by the July 9 deadline.
“We recognize this has been a difficult and painful process for many who are being displaced,” Fuller’s Media Relations Specialist Reed Metcalf said in an official statement regarding Fuller housing.
Fuller has been able to relocate all but three of the full time students who were eligible to transfer into the sixty percent of housing that remains. Metcalf said Fuller hopes to get those three placed into housing as soon as possible.
However, students who relocated out of the sold apartments are also worried about financial difficulties in the days to come, as the other student housing is more expensive.
Tyler Uhl and his wife moved from Chicago to Fuller housing eight months ago for her to begin a master’s program. Although the couple is allowed to move into the more expensive campus housing because of her full time student status, to supplement the extra costs of living in California, Uhl said his wife might have to start working part time and cut back on her studies.
That would mean the couple would no longer be qualified to reside in any Fuller housing.
“We’ve also discussed what it would look like to go part time and that’s scary for us because we obviously would have to forfeit our lease for our place and look elsewhere. Living close to campus wouldn’t be an option,” Uhl said. “I know a lot of people who are part time or alumni who got kicked out with nowhere else to go.”
A family of three will also relocate to more expensive student housing across the street from their current location. Melissa Hicks, married to a full time Fuller student, said the new apartment would have the same amount of space for $500 more per month — adding $6,000 per year for rent to their household expenses.
“Perhaps they do have enough housing for everyone, but the other side of the story is they don’t have the same sort of affordable housing that’s on this side. And they knew that,” Hicks said.
Hicks tried to organize a group together to apply the city’s Tenant Protection Ordinance, but discovered the law would not apply. Fuller has offered relocation fees to full time students of one-month’s rent or about $2000, much less than the ordinance would have offered, according to Hicks.
Since Zom has already graduated, his family did not qualify to receive any relocation help from Fuller.
“For me its sad. It’s the wrong decision. We liked this unit and community. All were students and pastors, so it’s a safe community. We loved this apartment. But we need to move out. It’s impossible to find this community again. Sharing ideas and faith,” Zom said.
Zom understood that Fuller had to sell because of financial difficulties.
“When the school was in its heyday, they had much grace for alumni. I think that’s why alumni could live here as long as they wanted to. But the world is changed. Fuller is changed,” Zom said.
The tragedy, according to affordable housing advocate Jill Shook, is that the school is not looking at the land and housing theologically.
Shook points to a friend who is among those who must vacate.
“She is just beside herself, my heart breaks for her. It’s hard to believe an institution would do that,” Shook said.
Fuller chose to sell the property after experiencing the nationwide decrease in graduate enrollment since 2008. The seminary also saw a substantial increase in online enrollment. By selling the “excess housing capacity” Fuller was able to reallocate resources mostly into student scholarships, according to Metcalf.
Carmel plans to demolish the existing 185 units and build 432 market-rate apartments plus 47 very low-income units at a separate site, according to a city staff report last June.
Permission has not been granted by the City to demolish the units. The City’s Master Plan for Fuller currently designates the area to expand affordable student housing.
A janitor on the property said he had been told on July 9 the entire property is to be boarded shut.