Striking Tenants' Plan to Buy Units Is Well Received

Times Staff Writer

An unprecedented plan by Latino tenants involved in a renters' rebellion to buy two apartment buildings from their landlord received a warmer-than-expected reception at a landlord-tenant meeting Tuesday night in Santa Ana.

While no official offer for the properties was submitted to the owner, Orange real estate salesman Michael Gonzales, financial figures were discussed, said Gonzales' attorney, Robert Lind.

"You got to admit," Lind said after the meeting, "it's a novel idea."

Lind said that should the tenants, many of whom are involved in a rent strike to protest slum conditions, submit an offer to buy Gonzales' Minnie Street apartments, "my client will give it serious consideration."

Organizers said tenants are seriously thinking about making an offer because if the buildings are sold to someone else, and if they are rehabilitated, rents could be substantially increased.

20 Families at Meeting

About 20 families were represented at Tuesday night's meeting, held at St. Joseph's Catholic Church. The families represent some of the 500 or so tenants in a rent strike at five locations in Santa Ana.

The renters' rebellion is regarded as the first in the nation where a group of Latino residents--many in the country illegally--have organized in a strike or have united on such a large scale to demand action from their local government.

"This represents a first. I know of no other effort where (Latino) tenants might be able to buy their own apartment buildings," said volunteer organizer Nativo Lopez.

Lind said that Gonzales has been offered $575,000 by interested parties for two blighted 20-unit apartment buildings at 1030 S. Minnie St. and 1102 S. Minnie St. Santa Ana housing inspectors have cited numerous health and safety code violations at the two properties, including rat infestation, cockroaches and substandard electrical wiring.

Purchase Conditions

The interested parties told Gonzales they will not enter into any agreement until the rent strike is stopped and a lawsuit requiring that rents be paid into a special trust, not to the landlord, are lifted, Lind said.

Because of those contingencies, tenant organizers believe that renters have a chance, even if remote at this point, to come up with a "ballpark" offer for the buildings.

"A buy-out really depends on how the banks, or whoever holds the note on the mortgages, responds," said Richard L. Spix, a Legal Aid attorney who negotiated on behalf of the 20 families.

Spix and Lopez characterized the discussions as warm. Lind said they were "very constructive."

"We're just talking at this point. But at least we're not shouting and fighting with each other," Lopez said.

Seen as Unique Opportunity

In fact, organizers view the negotiations as a unique opportunity for large, poor families to become part-owners of their homes.

The Minnie Street apartments owned by Gonzales and his wife, Stella, were found "substandard" by city housing inspectors as part of a citywide housing crackdown.

The couple were also named as co-defendants in a lawsuit brought by Legal Aid attorneys seeking to prevent any retaliatory action by any landlords against striking tenants.

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