Mouseholes near the floor, overflowing boxes of trash, exposed cables and pools of standing water. These were not the conditions Tamara Cantarell dreamed of for her and her four children, but it was all she could afford.
“It’s really uninhabitable,” she said.
Cantarell is one of 280 people living in dire conditions inside a closed college dormitory in the town of San Bernardino. With rent between $600 and $700 a month and no credit checks required, many, like the mother of four, came to the former American Sports University building only as a last resort.
“It was a last resort and we had to make do with what we had,” Cantarell said.
However, with code enforcement right next to condemning the building, the city is suing the owner. They are trying to give him 21 days to relocate residents at his expense.
“So many people don’t have the money to move yet,” said resident Carl Leonard. “And some of those people might end up on the streets.”
But according to city spokesman Jeff Krause, San Bernardino will help every resident move, even if it takes longer.
“There’s no way the city of San Bernardino can shut down a building with 200 people and say, ‘You’re alone. Get out on the street,'” he said.
Krause added that the building was never allowed for apartment living and that the owner exploits the vulnerable people who live there. He also said the city would not leave them alone and promised housing vouchers for all those relocated.
“We’ll take care of them first,” he said.
The building controller said he tried to make repairs, but the landlord has a cash flow problem that was only exacerbated by vandalism on the old dormitory.
“There’s a lot of blame on the landlords,” said building manager Jeffrey Young. “I mean we did our best.”
Young agreed that the building was not a safe place to live. He asked for more time, a month or two, to bring the families to safer places.
“Let them find a place to live,” Young said. “There is no affordable housing in San Bernardino.”
City officials plan to seek a temporary restraining order against the owners of the building.