ELACC Contests ‘La Casa del Mexicano’ Debt

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

When East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC) agreed to become the stewards of La Casa del Mexicano in Boyle Heights late last year, they agreed take on the building’s debt, which included paying off a high-interest loan taken out by the property’s previous stewards.

While ELACC is still disposed to paying the debt, it first wants to see a detailed breakdown showing why the mortgage balance has more than doubled since the loan was made seven years ago, says ELACC President Maria Cabildo.

The organization recently sent the loan issuer, Brownstone Mortgage Capital Corporation, a letter asking for the loan details, something they have refused to provide since January, Cabildo told EGP on Monday.

“When we accepted the asset we knew we were also accepting the debt, we just want to make sure the debt is legitimate,” she said. “The mortgage company is not sharing that information.”

The now defunct Mexican Benefit Corp. took out a $175,000 loan against the property in 2006, but failed to make necessary loan payments, sending the property into foreclosure and a date with the auction block.

News of the impending auction was met with a public outcry from community activists who feared the loss of the institution that has served the Boyle Heights community since the early part of the 20th century. They demanded that state and local officials investigate how the loan was approved in the first place, since the property belonged to a nonprofit but appeared to have become the private enterprise for the group’s officers. The auction was put on hold during the investigation, which found that the entity’s stewards — husband and wife Martha and Ruben Soriano and Martha Velasquez — had acted improperly and were liable for monetary damages, civil penalties and the state’s legal fees. The nonprofits Mexican Benefit Corp. and Comité de Beneficencia Mexicana de Los Angeles, Inc., the property’s previous owner, were dissolved.

Meanwhile, the loan amount ballooned to $450,000, according to Cabildo, who says ELACC simply wants to see a break down of the penalties, fees and interest rate charges before taking out another loan to pay it off. Genesis LA Economic Growth Corporation, a non-profit lender, is ready to lend ELACC the money to pay off the debt, Cabildo said.

“Just because ELACC was willing to take on the debt doesn’t mean your entire debt is valid until you show us how you arrived at this number,” said Cabildo, adding they hope to resolve the issue by May or early June.

Brownstone Mortgage Capital Corporation, which identifies itself as a subprime commercial mortgage lender on its website, did not respond to EGP calls and emails for comment.

ELACC calculates it needs about $5 million to restore La Casa del Mexicano to the same level of preservation they achieved at the Boyle Hotel. The building could be occupied with fewer renovations, but the goal is for it to be completely restored, Cabildo said.

ELACC held meetings earlier this month at the site to get input from the community about what they would like, or not like to see happen at the location in the future.

It was not a very hot day, but the roughly 100 people who attended were perspiring and fanning themselves, according to Cabildo, who said fixing the air conditioning would be costly fix because the building does not “have the infrastructure to support a modern air conditioning system.”

Because it is harder to raise money for a community facility, as opposed to housing—ELACC’s specialty — it could be five years before they are able to start the renovations and tenants would likely require some income generating activity, she said.

At the April 10 meeting — held in partnership with the I.am.angel foundation and attended by about 30 young people associated with the group — participants expressed an interest in La Casa del Mexicano becoming a community center where they can go for services, Cabildo said.

Suggestions from 12 breakout groups included returning La Casa to the neighborhood as a cultural space, focusing on cultural events for the community. There were also calls for job placement services and a computer-training lab for young people, college prep and arts programming, and completing structural upgrades to the parking lot and indoor amenities.

“Because the Casa has such deep roots in the neighborhood, we feel it is necessary to create a space where immediate surrounding neighbors and residents living in the general vicinity can put their thoughts and ideas on the table,” Cabildo told EGP. “Our mission is to preserve the Casa back to its original physical form and ensure that it is a place to grow community and local culture.”

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April 18, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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