Sunday, June 28, 2009 | A local developer that operates four affordable housing projects in San Diego County has been plagued by a series of recent controversies around the state, including criminal charges, a fire at one of its projects that killed four people, and the accusation that it’s been running a “living hell” at a building in Los Angeles.
San Diego-based The Amerland Group, which specializes in building and renovating affordable housing projects, recently agreed to pay more than $500,000 to a group of tenants from one of its buildings in downtown Los Angeles. The tenants accused the company of cutting off water to elderly renters, neglecting to keep elevators running and allowing human waste to back up in blocked toilets, while at the same time systematically squeezing out low-income and African-American renters.
The company and its principals also pleaded no contest to 36 criminal charges brought by the Los Angeles city attorney last year for failing to maintain fire protection equipment at two downtown Los Angeles buildings. And, last October, an Amerland project in the Bay Area city of Vallejo was gutted by a fire that killed four of the building’s elderly tenants and has drawn the interest of the local district attorney.
The company’s troubles were already brewing in January 2008 when the San Diego Housing Authority approved Amerland’s plans to buy and renovate the Bay Vista Apartments, a 268-unit project in Encanto. The Housing Authority allowed the developers to borrow the money using its tax-exempt status, thereby easing the developers’ financing costs.
Though the Los Angeles lawsuit was filed a month before the tax-free bonds were issued, it wasn’t mentioned at the Housing Authority meeting where the bonds were authorized. Nor was there any reference to the company’s troubles from the city’s Housing Commission, a body tasked with vetting affordable housing projects proposed by developers, which had also approved issuing the bonds.
Scrutiny of the company was less stringent because the city was merely providing access to financing for Amerland and not agreeing to give or lend the developer any public money, said Cissy Fisher, the commission’s assistant vice president.