Michael Chen settled in Riverside in 1992, the same year Ray Orbach became UCR chancellor.
By the time Orbach left in 2002, UCR had grown from 8,800 students to more than 14,000. Enrollment for Fall 2012 surpassed 21,000.
Chen, now a 50-something civil engineer, saw it unfold before his very eyes. And he decided to do something about it. He started buying houses near UCR. He added rooms to some of those houses and rented them to students. He says he has “under 10” rentals. Some residents say Chen wants to buy more and has offered to pay cash.
Chen’s not the only one buying up UCR-area homes. At least he lives in the city, unlike some OC absentees. He acknowledges the need “to be responsible for the neighborhood.” But it just isn’t working. Chen knows some long-time residents are steamed that he and others are helping change the face of a once-quiet subdivision. But he says change is inevitable, so: “Either you accommodate or you move.”
Chen says he’s just “taking advantage of the changing neighborhood.” Recent city building permits on one street alone help illustrate the degree of this change:
149 Nisbet Way (owned by Chen): “frame two walls to create 3 new bedrooms.” Total number of bedrooms: 6.
Chen knows first-hand of the wee-hours chaos that spills onto the streets of his rentals. He’s even tried to evict tenants. (None yet.) But why should he and other landlords take all the heat for converting living rooms to bedrooms? “The permit is not done by me. Why don’t you ask the city?”
Council members Mike Gardner, who used to represent the area, and Andy Melendrez, who represents it now, express concern and talk of new laws (though the city doesn’t enforce existing ones). A permit moratorium until “concern” brings “action”? Neither suggested it.
Chen: “Ask the mayor, ‘Are you going shrink UCR or make it bigger?’ UCR is not going to shrink.”
This appears to be the city’s and UCR’s calculus. If UCR-area residents feel strung out and angry, it’s because Chen’s right: “The whole thing is changing.” (I wonder if residents rolled their droopy eyes at our Tuesday Page 1 headline: “UCR Leads Study on Sleep.”)
At least Chen admits he’s capitalizing on this change. The city and UCR just pay lip service to being good neighbors, with such half-hearted “enforcement” that residents don’t believe life will improve unless they move.
It’s more than curious that a city that touts its “great neighborhoods” hugs the sidelines, waiting patiently until this neighborhood transformation is complete. There’s an old term for this: benign neglect.
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