‘Gente-fied’: Web Series That Explores Boyle Heights’ Changing Landscape

February 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The gentrification of the historic Boyle Heights neighborhood serves as the basis for the new web series “Gente-fied”, which according to America Ferrera, one of the show’s stars, uses humor as it tackles identity and generational conflicts for Latinos in the United States.

“I read the script and I laughed, cried and saw my experiences mirrored. The kind that I identify with a lot and that I have not seen represented before in television and films”, Ferrera said who was also the new series’ executive producer that premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival.

Lea este artículo en español: ‘Gente-fied’: Serie Web Que Explora Cultura De Boyle Heights

The 32-year-old actress, of Honduran descent, said she grew up in Los Angeles and knows the struggle of wanting to “embrace” the American culture, but from the “deep roots” of a traditional Hispanic family.

“It is a conflict, a sort of identity problem that is very much present in ‘Gente-fied’”, Ferrera pointed out.

Set in Boyle Heights, the series alternates from English to Spanish, exploring the effects of gentrification through seven characters. With light-hearted humor, issues such as the financial burdens of small business owners due to unstoppable rent increases are presented as well as the challenges of a gay Chicana artist.

Gentrification, the process by which the traditional inhabitants of an area are displaced by another population with higher purchasing power, is a matter that the series does not only show from an economic perspective but through its effect on the culture and daily lives of Latinos.

“One of my favorite episodes is the one about a mariachi group, who has played in the Mariachi Plaza for a long time. But when the youth and the ‘Chipsters’ (Chicanos and hipsters) move into the neighborhood, no one wants to listen to the old ‘boleros’ and the mariachi start to play ‘I Want It That Way’ by the Backstreet Boys,” Ferrera said.

The uniqueness of Boyle Heights, a landmark of Chicanos in Los Angeles is also an aspect highlighted in the show.

“When you go to Boyle Heights, the culture is so rich that you almost feel as if you’ve left Los Angeles and have entered a microcosm in another world,” she said.

“The first film I did was completely shot in Boyle Heights, but (the neighborhood) has changed a lot,” Ferrera recalled referring to the new “artsy” businesses and “trendy coffee shops” that have changed the area’s ecosystem.

The all-Latino cast also includes Alicia Sixtos, Edsson Morales, Sal Velez Jr. and Victoria Ortiz. Gente-fied was created by Marvin Bryan Lemus and co-written by Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez.

 

Legality of Eastside Evictions Questioned

May 26, 2016 by · 7 Comments 

Another battle is brewing in the war against gentrification that some believe is leading to the wholesale eviction of lower-income tenants and small businesses on the Eastside.

Lack of information and language barriers are among the problems critics of developers are linking to the displacement of some renters. The most recent case gaining attention is the sudden eviction of the OK Market on the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Hollins Street in Boyle Heights.

The owner had until yesterday to vacate the premises, but for now is refusing to leave.

Lea este artículo en Español: Cuestionan la legalidad de Desalojos en el Este de Los Ángeles

Maria Ramirez told EGP in Spanish that the situation is very difficult for her brother Miguel Ramirez who owns the grocery store.

“My brother bought the market nine years ago from its previous owner for $48,000” and it’s been a struggle to make ends meet, Ramirez told EGP Saturday. “Now [the landlord] wants us to leave. What are we going to do with all the merchandise and equipment,” she lamented.

Ramirez told EGP that when her brother bought the store in 2007 it still had six years remaining on its lease and they were given a new contract to sign by the landlord’s accountant when it expired.

“We thought it was an agreement for another three years,” she said, showing EGP the document written in English with no translation in Spanish. In reality, the new tenant agreement changes their status to month-to-month effective January 2013.

Ramirez said because they are only minimally proficient in English, her brother did not understand the terms of the new lease he signed.

According to the California Dept. of Consumer Affairs’ Legal Guide K-4, a person in a trade or business, who negotiates in a foreign language in the course of entering into a contract with a consumer, must give the consumer a written translation of the proposed contract in the language of the negotiations. This requirement of California law applies in negotiations conducted orally or in writing. But is a business also a consumer?

Supporters of the OK Market gathered Friday evening to post signs against gentrification in Boyle Heights. (Courtesy of Timo Saarelma)

Supporters of the OK Market gathered Friday evening to post signs against gentrification in Boyle Heights. (Courtesy of Timo Saarelma)

The legal remedy for the violation of that law is complicated, according to Noah Grynberg, an attorney with the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action. “It may have been a big deal if they had a contract and it expired after [being evicted],” he said.

Besides OK Market, a number of the tenants in the property’s 19 apartments and the other two commercial tenants have also received notices to vacate.

Elvira Barrales lives in one of the apartments with her husband and four children, ages 14, 13, 11 and 10.

“Last month I received an eviction letter saying two of my kids had to leave the apartment if we wanted to continue living here,” Barrales told EGP in Spanish, adding the landlord said no more than four people can live in the apartment.

“I don’t know where they got this,” she said, explaining she has lived in the building for 16 years.

In February, all of the tenants received a letter signed by landlord/agent Brian Neman informing them that Hyde Property Management LLC had taken over management of the property.

Ramirez complains that the new owner never reached out to talk about plans for the property or their lease. As a result, she says they initially felt they had no reason to think anything would change. People would come in and look around but they never introduced themselves or explained why they were here, she said.

Without any warning, on April 25 they received a 30-day eviction notice: “…the tenancy from month to month under which you hold the possession of the hereinafter described premises is terminated 30 days after service on you of this notice.”

Businesses operating on month-to-month leases do not ordinarily have the same legal protections that those who have longer-term leases enjoy. The very nature of a month-to-month lease is that a property owner only has to give a tenant 30-day notice that they want them to leave. The presence of a longer lease term could require the property owner to buyout a tenant’s lease and that could amount to a lot of money for the property owner. A month-to-month also gives tenants the right to leave on 30-day notice, relieving them of any obligation to pay off rent that could be due if they leave before their lease expires.

Community members placed signs asking the property owner to reconsider the eviction at OK Market. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Community members placed signs asking the property owner to reconsider the eviction at OK Market. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

With skyrocketing property values, many buyers want properties free of long-term leases, especially when it comes to residential units and small businesses where the rent is below market rate. They want to remove obstacles to recouping and maximizing their investment.
Ramirez wants to fight OK Market’s eviction and is reaching out to advocacy groups like Union de Vecinos for help.

According to Elizabeth Blaney with Union de Vecinos, the property’s owner has been evicting longtime residents, in some cases giving them three-day notices to vacate. He has convinced some to sign documents agreeing to leave voluntarily, she said, but added that some of the tenants –most Spanish speakers -did not understand what they were signing.

“They receive two months of free rent as long as they agree to leave by the end of that period,” she explained.

The Barrales family filed a lawsuit to block their eviction; they go to court May 31.

“We want to stay in our apartment,” says the mother of four. “We don’t have anywhere to go,” she told EGP, adding that the landlord didn’t even offer them relocation money.

In the City of Los Angeles, “all tenant not-at-fault evictions” require payment for relocation and the filing of a Landlord Declaration of Intent to Evict form with the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA), prior to the eviction, states the agency. “Failure to file the Landlord Declaration with the HCIDLA makes the eviction a violation of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO).”

Relocation amounts range from $7,800 to $19,300 depending on whether the tenant is an eligible or qualified tenant, the length of tenancy and the tenant’s income, states HCIDLA.

This rule, however, only applies to residential tenants, not renters of commercial spaces.

It’s unclear if the property owner has filed the required documents with the city.

EGP reached out to the owner for comment on this story, but as of press time Wednesday he had not responded,

The Ramirez family could also fall into the “No fault eviction” category, according to Grynberg, meaning they did nothing to cause the eviction.

“This is a complicated issue,” he said. Ramirez has the option to stay in the premises after the eviction time expires and if the landlord wishes he can file a lawsuit against them, he explained.

“That doesn’t mean they did anything wrong,” said Grynberg, but if this happens then they can defend themselves against the eviction.

In the meantime, “they’ll continue to spread the message that they want to continue to operate `… and we are going to defend them against the eviction,” he said.

There’s no way to predict how long the court process will take, explained Gynberg.

 

Update: 1:10pm July 1, 2016. Since the publication of the article, Grynberg  clarified that when he said, “It may have been a big deal if they had a contract and it expired after [being evicted],” that “One of the remedies  [available] is to rescind the contract, but is complicated because, do they really want to rescind the contract?”

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