This Thursday, activists plan a protest in front of Costa Mesa Motor Inn against the city's plan to replace it with luxury apartments. For years, low-income households have used the motel as last-resort affordable housing, leading to hundreds of calls for police service and health violations. But activists claim that leveling the motel will cause hundreds of residents to become "motel refugees"--that is, homeless.
Beginning at 5 p.m., they'll commence a silent protest--"silent" to protect individuals who may be afraid of retaliation--calling that 20% of the planned luxury apartments be affordable to low-income households. They're also calling for the end of the anti-long-term-occupancy ordinance, which forbids motel occupants from staying at a hotel for more than 30 consecutive days or 30 days within a 60-day span unless a conditional use permit is obtained. Currently, the only relief motel occupants have is a preliminary injunction issued this past February that protects them from eviction as long as they comply with the California Relocation Assistance Act, which requires counseling services and financial assistance with any forced relocation. Protesters have reached out to surrounding schools, residents, media, and homeless-assisting Christian churches to join them.
"The city must recognize low-income residents are part of our community," the protesters' website reads. "They need housing too. It is wrong for the city to encourage only luxury apartments and ignore the needs of low-income working families, disabled people, and others who desperately seek decent, affordable housing."
Protesters say some issues motel residents face are job loss, divorce, and soaring medical bills.
The city, however, says it's not interested in displacing poor families from affordable housing. "We contend that the current atmosphere at the Motor Inn, where there have been reports of prostitution and drug dealing and drug use going on, is not conducive to family living either," says Tony Dodero, public information officer at the City of Costa Mesa. "The Motor Inn itself is a huge drain on city and police resources, so that's why it became a focal point. And the owners are voluntarily changing the usage and are planning to build a new apartment complex that should improve the surrounding neighborhood and business districts."
One of the main groups supporting the motel residents is Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, which argues that the city is exclusively giving developers density bonuses that are higher than the city's zoning laws allow. "The city is hypocritical," says member Ryan Esfahani. "They talk about how they want to do something about affordable housing but, with this project, we see the council would rather step into a legal grey zone by giving density incentives to non-qualifying projects."
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A resident named Mehrnoosh has lived at the motel for 8.5 years and says he doesn't make nearly enough to find alternative housing. "There is nowhere else for us to go, especially in Costa Mesa where it's $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom," he says. "The maximum I can pay is less than that. Here, I pay $800, $50 for my cell phone, and I only have $150 to live for one month. When the council city makes decisions, they have to put themselves beside us. What about the homeless people--the ones you already have and the ones you're going to add to that population?"
If the motel is demolished and residents are forced out, their next best options are Costa Mesa's affordable housing units like Park Place Village, where they qualify for an $800 studio if their income is equal to or under $32,800 per year, and a $900 one-bedroom apartment if their income is equal to or under $37,500 per year. But many motel residents who are undergoing transition periods and/or are living paycheck-to-paycheck worry they won't be able to afford the first month's rent along with a security deposit. Former Costa Mesa development official representing Miracle Mile Donn Lamm, however, says the motel's long-term residents will be given relocation packages between $4,000 to $5,500 for each room.