Displaced Tenants Win ‘Right to Return’

Deal will allow Boyle Heights residents to stay in neighborhood.

By Jacqueline Garcia, EGP Staff Writer

Calling it a victory in the fight against displacement and gentrification, Carolina Vivara and her family Tuesday night celebrated an agreement that guarantees them and their neighbors the right to live in a new 50-unit affordable housing complex being built on the site of their former homes in Boyle Heights.

In August, families residing in 5 buildings on the 2400 block of East First Street were notified they would have to vacate their homes by Nov. 30 to make room for Cielito Lindo Phase 1, a 50-unit affordable housing complex being built by nonprofit housing developer East Los Angeles Community Corp, ELACC.

Lea este artículo en Español: Inquilinos Desplazados Ganan el ‘Derecho a Quedarse’

Months of negotiations between the tenants and ELACC resulted in the agreement that will give seventeen households, representing approximately 50 residents, the “Right of First Refusal” on leases for the first phase of the new housing complex scheduled to open in 2017.

By law, all the displaced residents are entitled to a minimum of $19,000 in relocation money, which tenants will not have to return even if they decide to lease a unit in the new facility.

It’s a big relief, said Vivara, who has lived in the same apartment for 17 years. She told EGP she was afraid she would lose her home and not be able to afford a new place. “Rent is extremely expensive,” she noted.

Tenants received support from Union de Vecinos, a nonprofit network of Boyle Heights committees fighting against gentrification and displacement since 1996.

Union de Vecinos helped tenants negotiate the terms of the deal allowing them to return when construction is completed.

Initially, renters were told by ELACC that they could only return if they met the development’s strict income eligibility requirements and passed credit and background checks.

For Vivara, that led to worries that her husband, the family’s sole provider, would not meet the minimum $24,000 income requirement for a family of four, and they would not be able to afford rent in another location.

“I currently pay $900 with utilities included for the two-bedroom apartment,” she told EGP in Spanish. “In other buildings the same apartment is $1,400 plus utilities, ” the mother of two said.

Terry Navarro has lived in Boyle Heights since the 1970s and in one of the buildings being demolished for the past eight years. She told EGP she attended the meeting where ELACC informed them about the situation and gave them a verbal offer to return.

“The problem is that we didn’t know for sure if we were coming back and that’s why we requested [the offer] be in writing,” she told EGP. Sometimes verbal offers don’t count, she said.

As part of the agreement, the tenants will not have to meet the minimum income requirements, Isela Gracian, ELACC president told EGP.

Carolina Vivara signs an agreement Tuesday night to move in a new affordable housing complex in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Carolina Vivara signs an agreement Tuesday night to move in a new affordable housing complex in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Also, applicants will have their credit reviewed, however, credit scores or debt will not be used to determine eligibility as long as applicants’ prior rental accounts are in good standing and they do not have a default eviction.

So far, 16 of the 17 households have received relocation benefits, according to Gracian. “One was able to purchase his first home with the relocation benefits,” she said.

The majority of tenants have found a new place to live for the next 18 months or so. East La Community Corp. staff is helping the others locate a place to move.

Elizabeth Blaney, co-director of Union de Vecinos told the tenants they hope the Right of First Refusal agreement is one that will be adopted by other developers building projects that could displace long-time residents of Boyle Heights and nearby areas.

“We are happy that East LA Community Corporation worked with us and the tenants to help reduce the displacement occurring in Boyle Heights,” Blaney said. “The right of return agreement can be a model for other affordable housing developers to help reduce the displacement caused by the construction of new affordable housing.”

The new housing complex will have 49 affordable units of one, two and three bedrooms and one manager unit, parking for 62 cars, 61 bicycles, a roof-top garden, community space among other amenities, according to ELACC.

Construction is set to begin in late January 2016.

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Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

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December 3, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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