Rain Johnston stands outside the apartment that was her home until just 30 minutes ago, fidgeting with a miniature American flag. The management shut her out, she says, before she could get her medications for a heart condition and knee and spine injuries.
“I feel very depressed,” she tells County Sheriff Deputy Tim Krebs, who has responded to an alert of a suicidal individual at the Rippling River apartment complex in Carmel Valley.
John Stewart Company served Johnston, 60, an eviction notice in January, alleging she had hosted unauthorized residents and violated noise policies. She has since struggled to keep the apartment.
Rippling River is government-subsidized housing for mentally or physically disabled and elderly persons. The Monterey County Housing Authority Development Corporation contracted John Stewart, a German-funded private management company with properties all over California, to take charge of Rippling River in 2008.
Residents have been complaining about the management for more than two years, according to Susan Leddy, president of the Rippling River Residents Association. But three recent evictions, including Johnston’s, brought those gripes to a louder pitch.
At a residents association meeting June 14, several residents complained about improperly installed oven hoods and leaky bathroom pipes. They alleged management is often short-staffed at night and on weekends, sometimes leaving special-needs residents locked out or in need of mobility assistance. (The Monterey County Regional Fire District says they’ve responded to 30 calls at Rippling River this year, mostly for fire alarms and assistance for disabled persons.) The stories told over the course of the 45-minute meeting boiled down to a general sense of frustration.
But Marie Tustin, John Stewart’s senior vice president, says the Rippling River residents who complain are a vocal minority. “We don’t think we have any maintenance problems,” she says.
As for the evictions, John Stewart’s lawyer, Nathan Benjamin, says the company was left with no other choice. “This is not a decision that is taken lightly. If you [have] someone who is causing disruptions, they have to take [legal action],” he says.
Starla Warren, president of the county Housing Authority Development Corporation, is content with the management. “John Stewart Company manages 100,000 units,” she says. “They know about special needs.” She says Rippling River residents seem to feel a greater sense of entitlement than tenants of the other public housing units she oversees.
But Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter is hoping for resolution. After he received a few complaints from the residents association, he delegated Thomas Espinoza, a Housing Authority of Monterey County commissioner, to act as a liaison.
Espinoza attended the residents association meeting and walked the premises of the apartment complex.
Two eviction cases are still in litigation: Susan Parenti is answering to initial violation notices of unauthorized residents and illegal drug use, while Helga Burch, an 86-year-old resident, is charged with illegally housing her son. Burch’s next hearing is July 9.
For now, Johnston is staying at a friend’s place and has been given permission to collect her belongings from her old apartment. She says she plans to take legal action against John Stewart.