Some tenants of downtown hotels fear city eviction will lead to homelessness

Many residents of a downtown hotel the city has ordered closed because it is unsafe have moved to other rental units or into hotels, but a few others said they feel overlooked and are being treated unfairly.

In July, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office announced to 72 residents at the C Street Inn, a single-room occupancy hotel, that they must vacate the building because of numerous health and safety violations. Tenants were told they would be provided with $4,720 in rental assistance, but only after they had provided evidence that they had signed a new lease.

Leslie Wolf Branscomb, senior public information officer with the City Attorney’s Office, said as of last week 25 people from the SRO had been connected to housing.

Some residents of the hotel had said they fear they will not be able to find a new place to live without money up front because they live paycheck to paycheck and will not have enough money if a landlord asks for a deposit and rent in advance.

The San Diego Housing Commission also is working with the City Attorney’s Office to assist people at the hotel by providing vouchers to stay at another hotel for two months, buying tenants some time while they search for a new permanent home.

Scott Marshall, vice president of communications and government relations for the Housing Commission, said efforts were made to engage with all 86 original residents of the C Street Inn.

That number is higher than the one reported by the City Attorney’s Office, in part because the Housing Commission is working with people who have not been offered the $4,720 from the City Attorney’s Office.

Those people include Laura Harvey, 59, and Mark Miner, 56, who said they have been offered hotel vouchers from the Housing Commission, but no assistance from the City Attorney’s Office. They lived in rooms in the basement below the hotel, which they said they rented from the hotel owner and landlord, Jack Rafiq.

Harvey said she and her daughter, who lives with her, have decided they want to leave San Diego and move to Northern California.

Laura Harvey sits outside of her old basement apartment below the C Street Inn, where she has lived since 2019.

(Nancee E. Lewis)

“This has made us think that maybe a fresh start is a good idea, but I can’t do that if I don’t have any money,” she said. “And I will end up homeless. That’s a place I don’t want to go back to. Unfortunately, the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t seem to really care.”

Harvey said she had been homeless six years before she moved into the C Street Inn three years ago.

Branscomb confirmed in an email that Harvey is not considered eligible for the financial assistance.

Mark Miner sits on the bed of his basement apartment below the C Street Inn.

Mark Miner sits on the bed of his basement apartment below the C Street Inn. Tenants of the property have been ordered to vacate by the city because of health and safety concerns with the building.

(Nancee E. Lewis)

“The issued notice only provides relocation benefits to tenants who were residing at the C Street Inn when the premises were deemed substandard,” she wrote. “The rooms in the basement where Laura Harvey and her daughter resided are not located at the C Street Inn property but at an adjacent property, so they are not entitled to relocation benefits.”

Harvey and Miner said they paid rent to Rafiq and were employed by him. She did tile work among other jobs and did various labor such as building walls and cleaning mattresses.

Harvey said she had originally moved into an upstairs room at the C Street Inn three years ago, but moved after Rafiq offered her a room in the basement, which at 1,200 square feet was about twice as large, giving her extra space for the nonprofit she was starting, Recycle for Change.

She said she considered herself a tenant of the hotel because she entered from the C Street entrance, has the hotel’s address on her driver’s license and she has the same mailing address as the hotel. When she learned she was not eligible for assistance, she moved back to her old room upstairs, but was told she was still ineligible because she moved in after the offer was made.

Harvey said she spoke about her situation at a City Council meeting, and a staff member from Mayor Todd Gloria’s office approached her and said he might be able to help. She said she hasn’t heard from him in the three weeks since, and the mayor’s office did not respond to an email from The San Diego Union-Tribune asking about Harvey’s claim.

Miner said he moved into the hotel in 2011 after spending two years homeless in Seattle. He said Rafiq offered him a room in the basement, where he still lives, and he was hired by Rafiq to do work at the hotel.

“My job, as well as my official residence, are going up in smoke,” he said.

“I do have an offer of two months at a hotel,” Miner said. “That’s not the issue. The issue is the city committed to writing checks, and then said there’s a couple of people we’re not going to write checks to, and I say that’s not fair, because I’ve been working body and soul, steaming for bed bugs or taking out a wall, for the last eight years for Jack.”

Harvey and Miner said one other person who lived in the basement and worked at the hotel also has been told he is not eligible for financial assistance form the City Attorney’s Office.

The basement can be entered through the C Street Inn lobby or through a stairway inside a business arcade on Seventh Avenue. While parts are directly below the hotel, much of the basement is under several other businesses on Seventh Avenue.

Areas of the large basement are cluttered with items from the hotel, including pipes, mattresses and bathtubs. Boxes of Miner’s books are on a floor outside his room, where he sleeps on a mattress on a buckling floorboard. Despite its ramshackle appearance, Miner said he appreciates the room.

Rafiq, who in early interviews disagreed with the city’s allegations about the condition of his building, has moved out of the hotel and could not be contacted for a comment.

Where Aug. 8, a superior court judge appointed Chris Neilson of the real estate company Trigild as receiver of the property, giving him exclusive control of the hotel.

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