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Rents are rising in Oceanside, and long-time renters are feeling the pinch. They're happy to see their neighborhood improve, but can't help wondering for whom it's improving.
The First Christian Church sits at the convergence of four parts of fast-changing Oceanside.
To its north is the city’s government complex, home to city hall and the library. Immediately east is the historically low-income and Latino neighborhood Crown Heights. To the west is Coast Highway, a burgeoning business district filling with craft breweries and eateries. Neighboring it to the south is the Seaside neighborhood.
Seaside is full of turn-of-the-century cottages, now selling for $500,000 to $800,000, said the church’s pastor, Jason Coker. The new owners are scrapping them for larger homes close to the rapidly revitalizing downtown Oceanside.
“It’s really great for residents of Oceanside who are homeowners and want to see property values going up,” Coker said. “It’s not good for renters, who are struggling to buy food.”
Renters in neighborhoods like Crown Heights are concerned downtown development will force them out of their neighborhoods.
Housing prices in other North County coastal cities are high and getting higher, pushing families in lower-income and Latino neighborhoods east and north.
Lita Morales and her family exemplify this pattern – minorities and lower income families getting pushed around the county as different parts develop. They have moved dozens of times since they moved to North County from Mexico 1975 when she was 15 years old.
Morales’ family has lived everywhere from Eden Gardens to San Marcos before ending up in Oceanside, after a Cardiff landlord doubled her family’s rent in 1987. Housing costs spurred each relocation.
“When I moved back into Oceanside the last time, I finally found a place I could feel safe,” Morales said. “I’ve been like a gypsy, here and there.”
As a wave of development hits downtown Oceanside, she and her church have lobbied the city to build more low-income housing. Last May the city agreed to increase fees to pay for affordable housing.
Coker’s church and other community groups are part of the fight, too.
“It would be a shame if Oceanside became another Encinitas, where there’s just a lot of the same upper-middle class white people running hip businesses,” Coker said. “One of the things that makes Oceanside really special is the diversity that we have.”
Oceanside’s rent hikes aren’t unusual. Rents are rising everywhere. The increases in Oceanside, though, are hitting people who ended up there for the affordability. Oceanside homes are a 30 percent cheaper than Carlsbad, and nearly half the price of Encinitas.
The Crown Heights neighborhood lies immediately west of I-5. A Boys and Girls Club separates it from Eastside, another historically Latino community, often called Pozole after its local gang. Crown Heights is closer to the coast, but Pozole’s hilltops boast views of the ocean and harbor.
Oceanside’s first wave of immigrants moved to Eastside around 1910, said Kristi Hawthorne, president of the Oceanside Historical Society.
Similar to Eden gardens in Solana Beach, it was formed by Latino farm workers at the turn of the century.
Crown Heights hasn’t been a Latino neighborhood nearly so long, Hawthorne said. It was a white, middle-class neighborhood until the 1970’s, when developers replaced its single-family homes with high-density apartments and a new wave of immigrants moved in.
Now the neighborhoods are changing again.
Pozole’s most common businesses today are check-cashing stores. It’s getting its first Starbucks.
Some residents can’t tell if that’s good or bad news.
Eva Espinosa owns a small meat market in Pozole, called Los Toritos. She’s had the store 14 years and says she doesn’t know what to make of the changes.
“The reality is, I don’t know what opinion to have about all the construction downtown,” Espinosa said in Spanish. “It could provide more jobs, but it could result in the loss of small businesses.”
If big companies come in and buy-out smaller businesses, the small business owners will have no choice but to sell, she said.
“No one has offered us money yet, but we don’t know what will happen,” she said in Spanish. “Big grocery stores have a lot, but here we’re all Mexican and those stores won’t sell what we sell here.”
Espinosa had to move her home recently, thanks to a rent hike.
Maria Yanez works with Crown Heights and Eastside for the Oceanside’s Neighborhood Services Departmen and said rising rents are common community concerns.
She said new companies purchased several apartment complexes, renovated the buildings and started working with law enforcement to rid the neighborhoods of crime. Rents went up.
“There’s only so much we can do,” said Yanez.
The department’s director, Margery Pierce, likewise said there isn’t much the city can do about it. It’s building some affordable housing, she said. Otherwise, the way to deal with rising rents is to raise the minimum wage, she said.
“Rents are rising countywide,” Pierce said in an e-mail.
Juana Sandoval has lived in Oceanside her entire life, moving from Crown Heights to Pozole when she was a child. She still lives in Pozole with her husband and three kids.
“Just the other day my sister and I were like, ‘Woah, there are people jogging here!’” Sandoval said. “We have definitely noticed changes in our neighborhood.”
Sandoval said there have been more homes for sale in Pozole. She’s a homeowner and stands to benefit if property values increase – but says she has friends who rent who are seeing prices increase. One friend, she said, had to move to Vista from Crown Heights six months ago because she couldn’t find a rent she could make in Oceanside.
“I see it in two points of view,” she said. “Maybe it will be beneficial because my property values will increase and the schools will get better. But other costs are going to rise, like rent for other people. I’ve noticed my groceries have been getting more expensive. And there’s going to be a different class of people in the neighborhood.”