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Hundreds living in a shuttered San Bernardino dorm scramble for new housing

The San Bernardino Sun logo The San Bernardino Sun 9/30/2022 Brian Whitehead, San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.

Sep. 29—Hundreds of tenants who have lived inside the former American Sports University dormitory in downtown San Bernardino are scrambling for new living quarters after learning the Fourth Street building is not permitted for housing and will be shut down.

While closing the dorm is the ultimate plan, city spokesman Jeff Kraus said Wednesday, Sept. 28, that getting those living inside into transitional and permanent housing is the current priority for officials.

It is unclear when American Sports University closed and when people started living there. Officials don't know exactly how many people live in the dorms, but estimate there are a couple hundred occupants.

"Residents are scared," Kraus said by phone Wednesday. "They don't want to be homeless on a moment's notice. That's why the city is doing everything and the county is doing everything they can to let them know they are unfortunate victims in this, that they've been taken advantage of by an unscrupulous property owner and landlord.

"We don't want them to be collateral damage by putting them on the street."

Founded by Dr. Harry Hwang, American Sports University opened in 2006 with an enrollment of 10 and described itself at the time as the country's sole four-year institution for "future leaders of the sports industry."

Enrollment ballooned to nearly 150 in two years.

Ringed by D Street to the west, Court Street to the south, Arrowhead Avenue to the east and Fourth Street to the north, the downtown campus included a food court and a gymnasium. The school's dormitory is located on the other side of Fourth Street, and was reported in 2008 of having 150 rooms.

Wednesday, Kraus said the Irwindale building owner and local property manager have been renting those dorms to people with disabilities, seniors and low-income earners.

The building owner and manager did not answer phone calls late Wednesday.

Adison Barton said he has paid $700 a month the past two years for a first-floor room he shares with his girlfriend and their three young children.

In a phone interview Wednesday evening, the 24-year-old said he learned six weeks ago people were not supposed to be living there. Previously someone who moved from motel to motel, Barton said he would not have taken residence inside the American Sports University dorm had he known as much.

While his unit has a bathroom, Barton must provide his own kitchen appliances: an electric stove, a microwave. There is visible black mold and water damage everywhere, he said.

"Nothing's been taken care of," Barton continued.

Conditions inside the dormitory are "deplorable," Kraus said, and hazardous on myriad fronts.

"It's not good in there," Kraus added.

Code enforcement officers cited the property in late June, Kraus said, and despite daily $1,000 fines, nothing was done to remedy the situation or transition tenants out.

About $95,000 in fines have been levied since, Kraus added.

With no response from the owner or property manager, the city last week contracted with a security company to monitor the building for any fires — a cost the city intends to recoup at a later date. Additionally, city officials mobilized homeless outreach and housing resources to encourage residents to transition out of the building.

"Our No. 1 concern is for the residents there and making sure alternative solutions are found for them," Kraus said. "If somebody says, 'I'm happy here,' or continues to turn down services, we're letting them know there's going to be a point in time where the building will be shut down."

The past few days, several groups have distributed food boxes, gift cards, diapers, hygiene items, motel vouchers and other necessities to those willing to accept.

They also have informed the residents the place is not safe.

County resources have been brought in to help.

"We're coming up with every plan," Kraus said.

The city will pursue civil and criminal remedies against the owner and property manager in time, Kraus added.

Until then, Kraus continued, "the city is not going to come and red tag the building with 10 minutes' notice. We're not going to kick everybody out, red tag the place and shut it down, even though it's not safe.

"But the clock is ticking on that building," Kraus said, "and we're highly encouraging everybody to take advantage of the services we're offering to find alternative housing."

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(c)2022 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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