Santa Ana artistic housing complex is rife with crime, complaint says

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Lisa Warmuth thought she found an ideal community of like-minded creatives when she moved into the apartments at the Santa Ana Arts Collective a year ago. Artist Silverpoint sold his lakefront home in northern Minnesota and expected a new life.

The five-story bank building along 17th and Main Streets had been transformed into a popular 58-unit affordable housing complex designed as a haven for low-income artists. Meta Housing, the Los Angeles-based developer behind SAAC, even received honors for innovative development at the Affordable Housing Awards in September.

But instead of inspiration or innovation, Warmuth found terror on his doorstep after regular skirmishes with several non-resident drug addicts who apparently had easy access to the premises.

“I’ve never been so scared,” Warmuth said. “There are many children here who have been exposed to multiple instances of drug use, drugs, needles, defecation, masturbation and public nudity.”

She is not alone.

A lengthy complaint sent to the city’s Housing Authority on September 8 on behalf of nearly 20 tenants and 25 children calling the SAAC home raised several allegations. He said drug deals on the property are common, as are drug parties that attract non-residents, who say they are guests.

Tenants in downstairs townhouses have documented incidents of homeless people taking drugs, masturbating and defecating on their patios.

Management’s efforts to secure the property have failed, according to the complaint. Security guards were hired and fired while the city ordered the dismantling of a temporary and unauthorized fence. Female tenants report being too afraid to use the laundry room or even be in the parking garage without fear of harassment.

“Our clients take all resident concerns very seriously and have spent considerable time investigating the issues and allegations mentioned in the letter, some of the issues our clients have already addressed before receiving a copy of the letter,” wrote lawyer Susan. Lein on behalf of Santa Ana Arts Collective LP in an Oct. 12 response to the city.

Landlords said they did not receive any complaints from tenants about drug sales or parties until September. They further deny that any violation of the Fair Housing Act occurred as alleged and, instead, say they operated in accordance with the law as well as the requirements of the Housing Tax Credit program. low income housing.

The situation at SAAC caught the attention of Andrea Lee Harris, arts administrator and educator at Santiago Canyon College, who recently visited the premises unannounced. What she found, from an unauthorized door to a locked, dark makerspace, seemed irrelevant.

“I have been involved in the arts in Santa Ana for 25 years and know that we all aspire to projects that will improve the city and the lives of tenants and the community,” said Harris, who was the founding director of Cal State. Fullerton. Grand Central Art Center in downtown Santa Ana. “This project was meant to serve artists, and it’s not a safe and well-managed space. No one can live and work in a hostile space and be creative or productive.

According to the complaint, the tenants “have witnessed fights, assaults and people with guns and knives regularly frequenting the sidewalks behind their homes, as well as prostitutes serving their customers next to the building. A tenant reported that a man attempted to grab her while she was walking outside the property. She then found this same man in the elevator of the building.

The most serious allegations detail an attempted child abduction as well as questions regarding two dead bodies there.

Addressed to the Santa Ana Housing Authority, the 16-page complaint also indicated where the artists’ tenants – the painters, musicians, ceramists, digital artists and jewelry makers who give the resort its identity – did not feel sufficiently supported.

Among the main criticisms are the lack of programs for tenant artists and the limited availability of makerspaces, despite hiring a full-time program director over a year ago.

Lisa Warmuth is a tenant artist from the Santa Ana Arts Collective in Santa Ana.

(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

“I was delighted to move here,” said Warmuth, who signed the housing complaint. “Here, I would be in a community of artists with artists, but it is not a community of artists.”

When soliciting tenant artists in 2019, Meta Housing was criticized by local Santa Ana artists for hosting an outreach workshop in Highland Park, a community in Los Angeles. Amid gentrification fears, questions were also raised as to whether local artists would be given priority for exhibitions in the planned gallery on the ground floor of the property.

Santa Ana has invested $ 7.9 million in the affordable housing project, which boasts of being the first under a new adaptive reuse law passed in 2014. After several delays, SAAC has finally opened its doors Last year.

Over time, the artist tenants who were approved realized that not all of their neighbors were low-income creators, whether they were OC locals or not. The complex also houses several tenants of supervised housing. The complaint assumes that an agreement was made with the city to include these residents because it was not possible to find enough artists or that it was done to acquire additional funding.

A Santa Ana Housing Authority official dismissed the first notion as false while asserting the second.

“On September 24, 2018, the city received a written request from Meta Housing as developer of the Santa Ana Arts Collective to request Mental Health Services Act funds available through Orange County to fill a financial gap. remaining, ”Judson said. Brown, head of the housing division. “The city supported their request for funding and the project serving this target population.

The initial lease approved the residences of 23 artists, 20 low-income tenants and 15 supportive housing tenants. But according to the complaint, some tenants in supportive housing are not getting the help they need, including constant access to case managers.

That claim, along with all others, prompted the city to look into the complaint as Housing Authority officials conducted an inspection of SAAC common spaces on September 30.

“The city and the Housing Authority do not own or manage the Santa Ana Arts Collective,” said Paul Eakins, spokesperson for the city. “However, the city is deeply concerned about the allegations and is actively working with the landlord to ensure that corrective action is taken and that a written response is provided to tenants to address all of their concerns.”

On October 12, a detailed response from their lawyer was first given to Brown.

“The letter submitted by some of the residents was full of misrepresentation, misrepresentation and inaccuracies,” one reads. “Many maintenance issues are already being resolved and were in progress before our customers received their letter. All the challenges that remain with the services, [permanent supportive housing] residents or the surrounding transient population will continue to be worked in collaboration with residents, our service providers, our financial partners, the City of Santa Ana and local law enforcement.

The owners say they have already spent $ 400,000 on improvements.

Not all residents painted a grim picture of life at SAAC. Lorna Manapat moved into her apartment last summer as a painter and single mother.

“Thank goodness I have a place,” she said. “My only complaint is that I don’t have any windows open, but it’s something they’re looking to fix.” Manapat designates the free on-site telecare clinic as a benefit that shows the developer cares about the well-being of residents.

She is not shy about the challenges the community has faced, but after a management survey last month, things appear to be changing. “Regarding security and drugs, management is finally doing something,” Manapat said. “I see the differences now. Some neighbors have been evicted.

Security gates lock properly while keys are required to access the stairs and laundry room.

Will the wave of recent changes be enough to allay the concerns of other tenants?

The complaint demands a multitude of documents from Meta Housing while calling for the creation of a tenant council under the supervision of the Corp. for Supportive Housing. The owners invite the tenants to form such an organization without interference.

For Warmuth, seeing a quick response to the SAAC would rekindle the hope that had drawn her to the complex in the first place. She was 5 when she was admitted to the Cranbrook Academy of Art and then got a college scholarship to attend the Detroit Institute of Art. But his life as an artist subsequently atrophied due to competing responsibilities.

So far, his studio at SAAC has not kept its promises.

“Where I am now was meant to be my dream,” Warmuth said, “and my dream literally turned into a nightmare.”

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