At City Center Motel in Long Beach, the untimely death of a long-term tenant spurs others to action
Last year, one day after Veterans Day, at the City Center Motel in room 205, Timothy Star died. He was a Vietnam Veteran who was proud of his Navajo roots. He was a medicine man who provided healing for close friends in need.
Tragically, police discovered Timothy’s body days after he passed. His neighbor, Joseph, says Timothy died from shock. Timothy was served an eviction notice in September, and the prospect of becoming unhoused loomed over him. Ultimately, it was too much.
Timothy was one of nine remaining long-term tenants at City Center Motel in Long Beach facing displacement. Joseph is a tenant I met while organizing in the housing justice movement. Community work often creates a lasting connection, where people continue to reach out looking for support well after you may have left the community based organization (CBO). Sometimes folks reach out when they are in a tough situation. When Joseph called, I called right back. We made plans to meet up and talk to tenants at City Center Motel.
The motel once housed dozens of tenants. Now, the remaining handful of tenants are organizing. Joseph and a few other tenants are connecting with local housing justice organizations for support. They intend to band together and ask the owner of the property for relocation fees. They fear they will end up on the streets if they don’t make such demands.
The motel sits close to Ocean Boulevard surrounded by numerous high-end, high-rise apartments. There is an increase in construction of new housing in the area – most of it out of reach for tenants who have lived there for decades. Joseph says it’s mostly elderly tenants or folks with disabilities at the motel. They cannot afford the current market price of rent in the neighborhood.
Tenants say the last time they had any contact with management was the day they were issued eviction notices. Multiple residents’ names were misspelled on their notices, and some listed completely different names. Other tenants never received notice at all.
Every remaining tenant is legally a renter since everyone paid rent for at least a year at the motel. But in the absence of management, communication, and resources, they are forced to live with extreme uncertainty, barely habitable housing, and no clear alternatives.
The most difficult part was when motel management stopped the amenities. Tenants lost the kitchen, laundry room, control room and the office — it was all locked up soon after the management and staff left.
In response, tenants assigned each other responsibilities that staff once carried out. Joseph and Freddie, fellow tenants, do security since people frequently break into rooms. There was a break in recently and the tenants closed up that room with wooden planks. On Thanksgiving, three men tried to break in, but a tenant talked them down and they left. Break-ins are the biggest safety concern they share.
To make safety matters worse, tenants are often unable to open their rooms since the key door devices no longer work. They have to break into their own room to get home. An older woman, Margaret, has to leave the door slightly open when she leaves since she is disabled and can’t go through the window.
Additionally, there is a lot of water damage in the rooms – ceilings discolored at the edges and black mold. One room boasts a large hole in the ceiling.
All together, tenants are worried about what happens next. However, they will not remain idle.
On November 16, 2021, Joseph and other tenants took their message to council chambers while the city’s Housing Element plan was adopted. They called on the city council to make housing a priority and closed their public comment by asserting that housing is a human right!
Despite ongoing activism, they are now looking to find ways to fund relocation. They continue to face pressure to leave. The property manager tried to put a fence around the site over the holidays. When tenants informed the landlord that this was a form of illegal eviction, they were given access to the fence’s lock.
Now, they organize, hope, and wait for justice to come – perhaps in the form of a fair relocation settlement – so they can start again.