Tenants of Salem’s Cardinal Village Apartments officially lost their homes this week.
More than 60 residents of the Hawthorne Avenue apartment complex learned in August they would have to vacate their half of the 32-unit complex by Oct. 14. City inspectors had inspected the property in July and declared it unsafe and uninhabitable.
The landlord was given an opportunity to make repairs but was told the units could not be occupied while repairs were made.
The city re-inspected the property Oct. 13. Inspectors found “minimal repairs were complete at the property,” and no efforts had been made by the landlord to help vacate the tenants, according to a city spokesperson.
All 16 units on the North side of the building must be vacated “within the next week,” the city said. Failure to leave within the next week will result in civil penalties.
The property is owned by Micaela Caballero and her children, Laura and Michael Febres. The family also owns property in Coos Bay and California. According to court documents, all three live in California.
The family must make extensive repairs to the apartments before they can be occupied again, the city said.
History of neglect
At the July inspection, staff found “severe” cockroach and mice infestations; leaks that had damaged flooring, walls and ceilings; no operational smoke alarms; and failed windows causing dry rot.
Tenants told the Statesman Journal in August the building had been in disrepair for years and nothing had been done.
Court records indicate a pattern of neglect at this and other buildings owned by Caballero and her family. Tenants of a property they own in Coos Bay were forced to leave after a city inspector found similarly untenable living conditions, according to court records. The building was later allowed to reopen after extensive repairs.
A tenant at Salem’s Cardinal Village sued Caballero, her kids, and Kathy Hernandez, who manages the property, in 2020 for not keeping the apartment in “habitable condition.” The unit in question is on the side of the building that does not have to be vacated.
The case was assigned to arbitration and dismissed in 2021.
City staff said they’ve been in contact with the owners of the Cardinal Village Apartments for several years.
Multi-family complexes in the city are required to have annual licenses and get inspections every five years through the Multi-Family Inspection Program.
The revocation of an apartment complex license is not common in Salem. The Cardinal complex is the sole entry on the city’s list of revoked multi-family licenses since 2016.
The list states that these buildings should be secure, not open to entry and vacant.
Warnings, misinformation, an effort to help
The weeks leading up to the vacate date were clouded in confusion and conflicting information.
According to an email obtained by the Statesman Journal, the city told Caballero repairs could not be made while units were still occupied and tenants would have to vacate by Oct. 14, no matter what. But the landlord told some tenants she would complete the repairs before then and they would not have to leave, advocacy workers told the Statesman Journal.
One tenant was evicted prior to the Oct. 14 vacate date. According to court records, Caballero and Hernandez sued the tenant for nonpayment of rent.
The tenant argued he should not have to pay because his apartment was uninhabitable and he was preparing to vacate. He used the Statesman Journal’s article as evidence in court.
A handwritten note attached to a scanned copy of the article submitted to Marion County alleged the landlord had retaliated against tenants who were quoted in the article. No other formal eviction notices were filed.
The city had asked advocacy groups, including Mano-a-Mano and Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Network/ARCHES, to help deliver news of the condemnation and help tenants find new homes.
ARCHES and the Fair Housing Council of Oregon hosted a resource fair Oct. 9 to provide information about tenant rights. The groups gave away baskets of shampoo and other toiletries alongside packets of information about fair housing laws and tenant rights.
Most of the baskets were left at the doors of residents who did not attend. Those who attended came mostly from the side of the building that does not have to vacate.
The week prior, a note had appeared on tenants’ doors warning of a “protest” hosted by ARCHES. The Statesman Journal obtained a copy of the note. It names specific ARCHES case managers and warns tenants, in Spanish, that “in these protests there are always people who die, like in Portland.” The note tells residents to stay home if they want to avoid “something bad.”
The note was signed by Micaela Caballero.
Symptoms of a larger problem
While the circumstances surrounding Cardinal Village are unique and complex, they are also “reflective of a broken housing system that is really leaving lots of folks behind,” Allan Lazo, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, said.
Fair Housing got involved to make sure tenants understood their rights, both as current tenants and as people trying to apply for new homes. As an organization, Fair Housing is concerned specifically with discrimination based on federal and state-protected classes: things like gender, national origin and disability.
Most of the Cardinal Village tenants are farmworkers who immigrated to Oregon from Central America.
Lazo said he does not have any direct evidence of fair housing violations at Cardinal Village. But the organization also wanted to make sure tenants understood their rights as people trying to apply for new homes.
The people fair housing is supposed to protect are “historically most likely to experience discrimination,” Lazo said, and often face an even more difficult housing market. Immigrants and people of color have a particularly hard time.
“Those are the kinds of communities we know are experiencing discrimination and are less likely to report it,” Lazo said.
Salem’s housing market is already one of the worst in the nation. Such a competitive atmosphere leaves already-vulnerable people with even fewer options, Lazo said.
“When [housing] providers can be choosy, you can only imagine who might get left behind.”
Shannon Sollitt covers agricultural workers through Report for America, a program that aims to support local journalism and democracy by reporting on under-covered issues and communities. Send tips, questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.