Open Letter to the Public: Tactics in Boyle Heights Gentrification Debate

By Jose Huizar

As a decades-long and proud Boyle Heights resident, I wanted to provide a message on a very important topic in the community: Gentrification.

While I share the concerns of displacement and rising costs of housing in Boyle Heights, race-based targeting or vandalism of any kind, like what has been leveled against small businesses and art galleries, and most recently the Weird Wave coffee shop, is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

We all have the right to express our 1st Amendment-protected opinions – that is not in dispute. But when that turns into destroying property, or violence of any kind, or targeting people solely based on race, that goes against everything Boyle Heights stands for.

We can and should use our freedom of speech to speak out for our neighbors whose rents are unreasonably being increased, like our mariachis who face eviction on 2nd Street, or in solidarity with our sidewalk vendors when they are the target of violence, like the recent incident with “Elotero Man” Benjamin Ramirez. I actively support those protest efforts and will continue to do so.

But in regards to destroying property, violence or race-baiting tactics, Boyle Heights’ history as a diverse community has taught us valuable lessons: violence is never the answer, and racism begets racism. We must reject it today, tomorrow and always. In its early years, Boyle Heights became one of the City’s first truly diverse communities by, in part, rejecting racist covenants prevalent in other Los Angeles’ neighborhoods that literally outlawed people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds from living together.

Instead of targeting business owners, particularly small business owners, we should instead focus our attention on tangible solutions to address the gentrification issues we face in Boyle Heights, and indeed throughout the entire City.

There are real concerns about housing affordability in Boyle Heights and the City of Los Angeles. Even though more of the housing in Boyle Heights has protections under rent control than in other parts of the City, too many of our neighbors are still getting displaced due to rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing.

My office has worked with local community organizations and the City to push forward several housing initiatives, including a door-to-door campaign in Boyle Heights to inform the more than 88% of renters who are protected under the City’s rent-control and who have protections from illegal rent increases and evictions.

Other actions we’ve taken include pushing for legislation to:

 

     —Ban renter harassment by property owners/landlords.

     —Require more substantive information on tenant rights be given to renters in rent-controlled units when they sign their leases.

     —Expand affordable housing by safely permitting Unapproved Dwelling Units, so-called “bootleg” apartments, in exchange for        affordable units.

     —Request the Housing Department create a plan to monitor and extend the City’s affordable housing covenants that are set to expire.

     —Create a publicly available list of the City’s affordable housing stock and post it online.

     —Require City staff to report back on methods and incentive-driven programs to keep long-standing small businesses in local communities.

     —Establish a Housing Department office at our Boyle Heights City Hall, where residents can receive direct assistance from housing experts.

 

And while my office has partnered with various affordable housing organizations to bring more affordable housing to Boyle Heights than most other City neighborhoods, we are actively seeking more opportunities to bring additional affordable housing to Boyle Heights.

I will also continue to press for a Linkage Fee, which would help create a steady stream of affordable housing income by linking new fees to development. This proposal will soon be heard – and I hope adopted – in the Planning Committee that I serve as Chair.

These are just a few things we can do together. Whether we’re expressing our free speech, or working to create better policy, let’s not lose sight of who we are and what Boyle Heights is all about. Our history offers us another valuable lesson: when Boyle Heights works together toward one goal, we can do anything.

Adelante!

Jose Huizar represents the city of Los Angeles’ 14 Council District, which includes Boyle Heights, Downtown Los Angeles, El Sereno, Eagle Rock, Highland Park and other areas of Northeast Los Angeles.

 

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August 3, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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