After months of unsuccessful pleading, community activists may finally have cornered Conquest Student Housing into a compromise, one which could lead to additional financial support for the recently evicted Cedarwood Apartments tenants.
Since this Tuesday at 10 a.m. – the day Conquest opened its official leasing period in Isla Vista – at least two activists at a time have stood in front of Conquest’s Breakpointe Apartments on Abrego Road to ask potential lessees to reconsider doing business with the company. Kelly Burns, a former Associated Students executive officer, said Conquest’s owner Alan Smolinksy came out to speak with protesters on Tuesday, seeking an end to their boycott.
Fifth-year environmental studies major Costanza Rampini was among the group who spoke with Smolinsky. She said he mentioned possible monetary compensation for the evicted tenants as a way to make amends.
“Smolinsky wants to try to redeem himself and save face after all the criticism Conquest has taken,” Rampini said. “It’s not up to the protesters to decide what it will take; it will have to include the families and the rest of the community.”
The controversy involving Conquest began in August, when a company then known only as 6626 Picasso Road, LLC, evicted all the tenants from the 55-unit Cedarwood Apartments, located at 6626 Picasso Rd. Several rallies led mostly by UCSB student leaders ensued, as well as fundraising efforts to help the tenants fight their evictions in court. The tenants claimed discrimination, citing that most of them were low-income Latino families.
Activists also collected roughly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a boycott of Conquest.
Eventually, it was revealed that Conquest Student Housing was the owner of the property and responsible for the evictions. During this period, Conquest did not speak with the protesters, and to this date has yet to agree to a full interview with the Daily Nexus to clarify its role in ownership over the property.
The tenants and Conquest went to court and settled on Oct. 31st – a settlement many activists claim shortchanged the tenants, who were forced to move out by Dec. 1.
With the tenants removed, Conquest began refurbishments to the Cedarwood complex, now called Coronado.
Burns said she was not sure what demands would be made by the current group of activists, or if such demands would be met by Conquest. However, she said the group would not terminate the protest until an agreement is reached.
“This is a very effective way to get attention,” Burns said. “This is drawing significant attention to the cause and affecting Conquest’s business.”
Isla Vista Tenants Union advisor Carmela Galvez said the volunteers would continue handing out fliers and informing community members of the protest.
“Conquest wanted them to stop until the negotiations take place,” Galvez said. “But they won’t stop until Conquest offers some sort of olive branch to the community and are ready to talk.”
At one point during this week’s protest, Conquest employees physically blocked the protesters from handing out fliers to students and potential lessees, said Jessica Hitt, a fourth-year environmental studies major. She said the employees moved back and forth on the sidewalk between the protesters and potential customers.
“A lot of the people who pass by are interested in protesting with us,” Hitt said. “They’re saying how terrible Conquest is and how they don’t fix anything. [Current Conquest] residents are taking buttons and a lot of tenants are not signing leases for next year.”
Many of the protesters are associated with the Isla Vista Tenants Union, and said one goal of the boycott is for Conquest to agree to some type of ethical standard for evicting tenants. Isla Vista Tenants Union is currently working towards the passage of a Just Cause Ordinance, which would prevent landlords from evicting residents without certain conditions being met.