Conquest Student Housing released its first public statement concerning the Cedarwood Apartments controversy on Monday, five months after tenants were evicted from the complex.
In the statement, Conquest owner Alan Smolinsky claimed that the company did not own Coronado – the new name of Cedarwood Apartments – or any other housing complex, but in fact only acts as a manager. Smolinsky also defended the owner’s move to evict the 55 units of tenants, rejecting allegations that discrimination was a reason for the evictions.
Conquest manages two apartments in Isla Vista, and 18 near the University of Southern California.
Additionally, the press release said Conquest is in the process of contributing to the relocation fund that has been established for the tenants, and will provide them with housing recommendation letters.
However, Costanza Rampini, a fifth-year environmental studies major and student activist, said nothing has been finalized. Rampini said she and other protesters have been in talks with Smolinsky recently, and while Conquest has been open to negotiation, nothing concrete has been agreed upon.
“We are in talks, but he hasn’t done anything yet,” Rampini said. “We haven’t seen any money.”
Also, the Daily Nexus has yet to clarify or confirm Conquest’s relationship to the ownership of the various properties they manage. Conquest has not agreed to such an interview with the Daily Nexus.
In 2005, for instance, Breakpointe Apartments – currently managed by Conquest – had three owners: 6690 Abrego Road, Inc.; All You Need is Love, LLC; and Alissa Properties, LLC. These three companies were the grantors of the property to its current owner – Yellow Submarine, LLC.
On the property’s deed of trust, Smolinisky was listed as the vice president and secretary of 6690 Abrego Road, Inc. while his business partner Brian C. Chen was listed as the president and treasurer. Mario Smolinisky – presumably a relative of Alan Smolinsky – listed himself as a general partner of Alissa Properties, LLC on his federal election commission filings.
Conquest Student Housing and the Cedarwood tenants reached a settlement on Oct. 31 in which the tenants agreed to move out in exchange for a returned security deposit, a removal of the eviction from their records and a postponed eviction date. Students and community members, however, said the settlement was unfair and have continued to protest Conquest’s ethics and practices, all the while alleging discrimination.
The Conquest press release denied accusations that the evictions were based on discrimination, claiming that the Cedarwood complex was dilapidated, unsafe, and in need of a complete renovation that would require the building to be empty of tenants for months.
“The former Cedarwood tenants were not targeted because of their race or financial status,” the press release stated. “Anybody who was living in Cedarwood at the time, regardless of race or financial status, would have been required to move out of the building.”
Rampini said Conquest has disappointed and angered I.V. residents, especially those who live in Conquest properties. Although the company is taking steps to improve relations with its community, she said there is still a lot of work to be done. Until that time, she said that she and other protesters would continue asking potential lessees to boycott the company.
“Yes, we are negotiating with them, but the protests are bigger than ever,” Rampini said. “This is only the beginning of a long process before we decide to stop the boycott.”
Associated Students External Vice-President of Local Affairs Joel Rodriguez-Flores said he believes the evictions would have been handled in a different manner had the tenants been high-income college students rather than low-income families.
“They probably wouldn’t have kicked everyone out and refused to talk to them,” Rodriguez-Flores said. “The families are still struggling.”
According to the press release, Conquest’s Coronado complex is slated to open for occupancy in August 2007 after a renovation of maintenance problems such as leaking roofs, problematic electrical and plumbing work and mold.
The facility will have units with upgraded kitchens and bathrooms, outdoor facilities such as a swimming pool and fire pit, and a fitness center, the press release stated.
“Anyone is welcome to rent an apartment at Coronado, including former Cedarwood tenants,” the press release said.