Former resident of Katella Grand shares perspective on what went down after Chapman’s latest purchase
In the middle of planning his vacation to Amsterdam, Wayne Zitter’s night was ruined by a single Yelp message from “Clarence D.,” a Chapman University student. It notified the 43-year-old disabled retiree that his recently-renewed lease would be terminated by the university’s buyout of the Katella Grand apartment complex.
Neither the building’s management company, United Dominion Realty, nor Chapman, offered any insight to the Katella Grand residents before announcing the acquisition in a mass email to university students and staff in November of last year. With less than six months to relocate, residents were left in the dark while students looked ahead into a bright future.
In their initiative to house more students in university buildings, Chapman paid a hefty $150 million for the Anaheim apartment complex. With some minor renovations, the brand-new building that was home to hundreds of families would soon become a resort for 900 college students. An updating budget of $7 million covered $3.7 million for furniture, $1.2 million for labor, $566,000 for materials and $400,000 for technology infrastructure, according to Chapman’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Harold Hewitt, Jr.
Zitter believes UDR withheld information from Katella Grand residents to keep them from complaining. He knew that lies were circulating to keep him and the other residents quiet, but he refused to be silenced.
“The management team told me they knew nothing about the buyout. Then they told me not to come back to the leasing office anymore,” Zitter said. “I was furious. Once it was very known that Chapman was purchasing the building, our leasing staff let the whole place go to hell.”
A unit on the courtyard side of the third floor had a leak that completely flooded three apartments, says Zitter. The incident then set off the fire alarm, which rang from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. that day. Zitter called the maintenance office more than five times to resolve the issue, but they told him they had no immediate plans to fix it.
“They wouldn’t do nothing about it. I called Chapman’s housing department, and they would not take action either,” Zitter said.
With tensions running high and time to find a new place running out, Zitter was in a rut. He reached out to Chapman’s Residence Life and First Year Experience team to get more information on the timeline of things, but again they offered him no help. Not one person from the Chapman community returned any of his calls or emails which infuriated him even more, says Zitter. Chapman Grand Area Coordinator Erin Ash acknowledges the former resident’s dissatisfaction.
“No one was hostile, everyone was generally understanding,” Ash said. “Although, I do know there was some frustration with the previous management team of Katella Grand, and with the whole process.”
Chapman offered compensation plans to help facilitate the tenants’ short-term exodus. They needed everyone out by May so they could start prepping the complex for students. The package offered to residents included a free last month’s rent and full reimbursement of the security deposit, says Hewitt. However, Zitter says he only received $485 of the initial $1,099 deposit, due to supposed damage which he doesn’t recall. He plans to reach out again to ensure he is repaid the full amount.
“Chapman does not lightly anger people, and so we did give consideration to the people that we were displacing,” Hewitt said. “But, we were not willing to pay for being pissed.”
In addition to relieving some of their financial burden, Hewitt also mentioned the tenants had the first opportunity to rent apartments from the brand new complex Parallel, built directly next to Grand. Also run by UDR, the building was strikingly similar to Katella Grand in appearance, but had a major structural difference. Parallel consisted of only one and two-bedroom apartments, models that would not meet the needs of Zitter and his two roommates. Residents needing a three-bedroom apartment were out of luck, which is what prompted Zitter to ask for something more. When Zitter requested an additional deduction on his final month’s rent, he felt inconvenienced that it took Chapman five days to approve his request.
“Five days? I’m sorry, five days?” Hewitt said. “When we were not on site and we were not managing during that time, five days. Does this guy sound reasonable to you?”
Zitter knew finding a new, affordable place in the area would be hard due to the rising costs of housing. He paid $3,400 a month to live at Katella Grand, a price he understood was hard to come by for a 1,325-square-foot apartment in Anaheim. Rent prices in Orange County are up 28 percent, while income is down 9 percent, according to the U.S. Census. Consequently, ore than half of Southern California tenants are rent-burdened, meaning they spend at least a third of their income on rent.
Another challenge for Zitter was finding a place in as convenient a location as Grand. His roommate Phil worked near Downtown Disney, just down the street from the apartment building. In order to keep the perks of location, Zitter decided to rent from a different complex nearby, even though it would cost him. To cover the security deposit and other move-in expenses, Zitter and his partner David Streeter had to take out a loan of $4,000, which they are still struggling to pay off. They also scrambled to find a fourth roommate to fill the new space and keep costs down.
While the situation was not ideal for Zitter and his roommates, their fate was brighter than they originally anticipated after news of their eviction.
“I feared that we would be homeless,” Zitter said.
Orange County’s considerable homeless population may be attributed to rising gentrification, according to an article by The Washington Post. The homelessness problem was what drove Zitter out of his previous residence and into Katella Grand.
“I used to live in a building called Renaissance at Orange until the homeless population starting overrunning that place,” Zitter said.
Renaissance is a property that backs up to the Santa Ana River: prime real estate for homeless camps. Katella Grand became Zitter’s sanctuary, a property where he could escape the negative impacts of gentrification. Ironically, it was this same phenomenon that pushed him out of his home to make way for the incoming students.
For Chapman University, the acquisition of Grand was a major feat in their push toward expansion, and an opportunity that excited students, like current resident Grant Oliphint. But when applying for on-campus housing at the new resort-like building, the sophomore television writing and production major didn’t realize the larger repercussions of his actions.
“It sucks. I didn’t understand that we literally took people’s homes from them,” Oliphint said.
Sophomore business administration major Nathan Seidman expressed how lucky he feels to live at Grand.
“I mean, I knew I was privileged. I’m a white male but like, I didn’t know I was this privileged,” Seidman said.
While students are enjoying their new luxurious residence, Zitter is still trying to rebound from his eviction. Disgruntled with the way the situation was handled and the financial burden it brought him, he and Streeter plan to take legitimate actions to settle their anger. They are currently conducting research to find a lawyer to assist them in filing a class action lawsuit against the university. The people of Katella Grand vs. Chapman University could potentially be the next step in their pursuit for justice.