Count Could Take Up ‘Renters Rights’

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Los Angeles County supervisor called Tuesday for policies to protect tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods and suggested that studies of the issue could be funded by landlords.

Supervisor Hilda Solis previewed a motion, co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, directing staffers to look at policies that protect rental rates, tenant tenure and freedom from discrimination.

She also proposed an analysis of state and federal laws that regulate the private rental market.

“Displacement pressures are stoking community concerns as capital floods into long-neglected urban areas,” the motion states. “The maintenance of diverse, stable neighborhoods is in the interest of public health and orderly development.”

Long-term tenants are interested in investing in their community and should benefit when property values go up, Solis said.

Implementing new policies and advocating for legislative changes, if needed, could be costly, but the motion offers a solution.

“There need be little or no cost to the county general fund if administrative costs are recovered through a small per-unit fee paid by landlords,” it states.

The motion is expected to be considered next week.

‘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.

 

Plans for Apartment Complex Leave Tenants Scrambling

July 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti reminded renters last week that they have rights under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, but as one group of tenants in Highland Park has found out, those rights don’t apply to everyone.

The city ordinance provides protections against eviction and rent hikes to some tenants living in older apartment dwellings, but not to the nearly 60 families living at the Marmion Royal apartment complex at 5800 Marmion Way, across the street from the Highland Park Gold Line Station. The tenants are facing eviction by the property’s new owners, Skya Ventures and Gelt Ventures, who purchased the property from Azusa Pacific University for $14.3 million.

In May, Skya’s president, Gelena Skya-Wasserman, told real estate news site The Real Deal that they plan to renovate the building’s façade and apartment units, and to upgrade security and add new amenities to the complex, which according to The Real Deal was 91% leased when the property changed hands.

Residents and housing advocates on Tuesday denounced the evictions as another example of families being displaced by gentrification of the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood.

Theresa Andrade, mother of three, told EGP about a year ago she was forced to leave her apartment located on Avenue 51, near Monte Vista Street, because they were increasing her rent.

“Now I’m being evicted from this apartment too,” she added worried.

Flor Ventura and her husband and son have lived at the Marmion Royal for 10 years. On May 16, they received a notice informing them they had 60 days to vacate their apartment.

Ventura told EGP she was at first confused, but soon realized she wasn’t alone. Many of her neighbors had received the same notice.

Not knowing what else to do, she told EGP they reached out to their local councilman, Gil Cedillo, who chairs the city council’s housing committee.

According to Ventura, staff in Cedillo’s Highland Park Field Office told them the problem was out of their hands because the property doesn’t fall under the rent stabilization ordinance, and therefore there was nothing the council office could do for them.

Residents and activists protest the eviction of tenants from the Marmion Royal apartments in Highland Park. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Residents and activists protest the eviction of tenants from the Marmion Royal apartments in Highland Park. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“Basically, they told us the people who bought the building have a lot of money and there’s nothing we can do but leave,” Ventura told EGP in Spanish.

Protections under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance or RSO, apply to multi-unit buildings built before 1978; the Marmion Royal was built in 1987.

The lack of protections for tenants like those at the Marmion Royal has allowed landlords to raise rents as high as they want and has led to a flood of no-fault evictions at the same time that the demand for housing is on the rise, claims the NELA Alliance, a group of local activists documenting gentrification in Northeast L.A.

The majority of tenants living in the units are working-class Latinos. Several tenants receive Section 8 housing subsidies.

“Tenants have asked why we [Los Angeles] do not offer an extended rent control policy,” Cedillo spokesman Fredy Cejas told EGP. According to Cejas, under the 1995 Costa Hawkins Act, “no law can interfere with an owner’s ability to establish the rental rate for his/her property.”

“The Marmion Royal complex does not fall under RSO protection, which means there is little room for us to intervene,” he told EGP.

Ventura said tenants attempted to come to an agreement with the owner that would allow them to return to their apartments once the remodel is complete, but while he was amenable to allowing them to return, their new rent would be nearly double what they now pay.

There’s also the additional cost of finding a new place to live while construction is going on, making the deal unaffordable.

The tenants have formed the Marmion Royal Tenants’ Union, a new entity under which they will fight their displacement.

About 50 tenants have so far signed a petition to fight their evictions, according to John Urquiza, a NELA Alliance activist.

Attorney Elena Popp with the Eviction Defense Network of Los Angeles is helping to protect the tenants from retribution by the landlord.

“When we get to the eviction process, the attorney will kick in and defend tenants,” Urquiza said.
In the meantime, tenants claim the landlord, who already has crews to begin working on the building, is harassing them.

“They have cut the water several days without previous notice,” Marylyn Zamaniego told EGP during Tuesday’s protest. “My daughter is afraid of the constant noise crew workers make,” she added.

EGP reached out to the new owners for comment, but they had not responded as of press time.

However, in May, The Real Deal reported that Skya-Wasserman boasted the “walkability of the up-and-coming neighborhood.”

“The owners prized the adjacency to the [Gold Line] station, which was built in 1911,” according The Real Deal.

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Business Owners Fight to Stay In Boyle Heights

July 14, 2016 by · 3 Comments 

Long time Boyle Heights residents and activists continue to accuse developers and real estate investors of carelessly changing the character of their neighborhood to accommodate higher-income residents moving to the area due to its proximity to downtown Los Angeles.

In one of two recent cases, the owner of OK Market on the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Hollins Street reached a settlement in court Tuesday with his landlord/agent Brian Neman of Hyde Property Management LLC. The agreement comes after three-months of fighting to nullify a 30-day notice to vacate the retail site, despite not being in violation of the terms of his lease, according to the market owner’s sister, Maria Ramirez.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but it’s expected OK Market will leave.

It comes one day after supporters, led by Union de Vecinos, a network of local Boyle Heights residents fighting gentrification—gathered outside of the market and delivered 300 petition signatures to the building in support of allowing the market to stay.

A few blocks away, owners of Carnitas Michoacan, a popular restaurant open 24-hours a day that has been in the neighborhood for 33 years, recently received a notification they have until the end of this month to move.

A sign on the window of Carnitas Michoacan alerts customers the 33-year business will soon be closing its doors.  (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A sign on the window of Carnitas Michoacan alerts customers the 33-year business will soon be closing its doors. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A sign on a window reads, “Forced to close soon by my landlord because Panda Express wants this location to sell Chinese food.” The long-time restaurant owners say they are worried about the future of their business.

Co-owner Richard Raya told EGP he couldn’t say much about the issue since they are in litigation with the property owner.

Raya said, however, that people should be allowed to decide which restaurants or stores they want in their neighborhood.

Union de Vecinos says that the displacement of these businesses is another sign of the non-stop gentrification movement in Boyle Heights.

“The rebuilding of the 6th Street Bridge, (a block away from the market), the proposed 1,000 units of luxury housing on the Sears site (3 blocks away), and the influx of galleries located around the area are causing real estate prices to rise,” the group said in a statement.

Union de Vecinos said investors and developers are coming into Boyle Heights with their vision of what they think the neighborhood needs, ignoring the struggles many in the predominantly low-income Latino community face to make ends meet.

“We need laundromats to replace what was burned down and torn down,” the group said, referring to a laundromat on the corner of Whittier and Boyle Avenues that burned down a few months ago.

“We need child care centers and places for seniors. We don’t need or want the same old box stores that can be found anywhere.”

Displaced Tenants Win ‘Right to Return’

December 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

The ‘Good Neighbor’ Role In Gentrification

November 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Just a few blocks from a major commercial corridor in Highland Park where storefronts have changed and property values have increased, east and northeast Los Angeles area residents gathered Saturday for a panel discussion on what it means to be a good neighbor.

Within minutes it was clear that for many gentrification and housing affordability are a big part of the equation.

The meeting was held at the Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, a site that has withstood the many changes going on around the nearly century old synagogue.

“Renters are getting evicted because the cost of housing is very high, meaning renters get priced out of their homes in neighborhoods that are becoming attractive, like Highland Park, Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights,” said moderator Helen Leung, co-executive director of the nonprofit LA-Más.

“The term gentrification is very loaded but I’m hoping we can discuss how we can minimize displacement,” she said, attempting to frame Saturday’s dialogue.

Panel speakers included Los Angeles Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer, Elena Popp, a Lincoln Heights resident and Executive Director of the Eviction Defense Network, and Shmuel Gonzalez, a community activists and historian from Boyle Heights.

According to Popp, when asked what it means to be a good neighbor her first reaction is to describe someone who is friendly and doesn’t have loud parties. But as “la abogada” (the lawyer), she knows it means helping your neighbor stay in the neighborhood.

700,000 tenants are evicted every year, Popp emphasized.

“We need to develop more affordable housing and make sure the number of [market rate] developers are restricted,” she said, citing the Wyvernwood Garden housing project in Boyle Heights as an example where a development could force longtime neighbors from their homes.

A panel Nov. 14 at the Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock discuss tenant displacement.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

A panel Nov. 14 at the Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock discuss tenant displacement. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

For renter’s rights and affordable housing advocates, Wyvernwood has become synonymous with eastside gentrification. Plans to demolish and replace the 1,187 World War II era apartments to make room for a proposed mixed-use development project has led to mixed emotions in the community.

Many activists claim gentrification is just another word for racism because it displaces mostly low-income Latino families.

“We shouldn’t pretend there isn’t a significant amount of profit on the backs of the working class families being displaced,” said Zimmer. “It’s up to us affected and not affected to raise enough attention for this to be addressed,” he said, prompting applause from the 50 or so people in the audience.

In general, the panel agreed that both low income and market rate housing are needed to preserve a community’s viability and attractiveness.

“We need to have that option so people can get out of low-income housing,” said Gonzalez, referring to higher earning residents who want to stay in the neighborhood but want better housing options and amenities.

Zimmer said developers visit him throughout the year hoping to entice his support for a local housing project with promises of developer fees for a particular school. In his view, the fees are just “used to hush a particular neighborhood” so he’s inclined to deny giving his support.

Annabella Mazariegos of Boyle Heights says longtime community activist like her cannot be silenced.

“A positive change in property values and new businesses should not mean a change in the people who live there,” she said.

So, if that’s the case, then how does a community respect those individuals who have lived in the neighborhood for 50 years as well as those who moved in 50 days ago, Leung asked the panelists.

Citing from personal experience, Zimmer said while he felt blessed when welcomed into the Elysian Valley community he found it very important to check his “privilege and entitlement.”

“When you move into a neighborhood that doesn’t give you the right to take over a council or organizations,” the school board president said. “Buying a home doesn’t entitle you to control.”

It’s something he has witnessed firsthand at LAUSD schools, where some individuals or groups push their personal agendas or interests.

“When a parent advisory group is suggesting school funds be used for a garden and not an intervention program I’m going to ask who is on the council,” he elaborated.

Gonzalez pointed out that Eastside communities like Boyle Heights are already dense, causing parking issues and other problems that cause tension among neighbors.

“A lot of people don’t want dense housing because they are afraid of the demographics change,” he said. “Let’s be honest it’s because that means non-Latinos are moving in.”

Gonzalez said it’s a form of racism taking place on the Eastside and pointed to a 2014-firebombing in the Ramona Gardens housing project that many people believe was a hate crime. The firebombing targeted three black families and one Latino family in the public housing complex, where the vast majority of residents are Latino.

Landlord, Cecilia Dominguez, 62, of Elysian Valley, says the issue is complex. She told EGP she understands the dilemma of not wanting to displace a family, which reflects the key culture of a community, but as businesswoman she also has to do what she needs to stay afloat, and that could be to raise rents.

According to Dominquez, the properties she purchased decades ago have gone up in value, but so have her property taxes to reflect new higher property value assessments.

“I don’t want to [raise rents] but my property taxes are going up so I know I will eventually have to,” she said.

While Dominguez sees the discussion as a good start to framing and addressing the issue of renter displacement, she was disappointed no real solutions were reached.

She said she hears over and over that a change in demographics [to higher income] in the community will translate into better streets, betters school and better options.

“But for whom?” she asks. “The people who lived there for years and were displaced won’t see those changes.”

 

‘Gentrification’ Pressures Small Business

August 20, 2015 by · 5 Comments 

Amada Decoloma cried helplessly when she saw water dripping from the ceiling of her beauty salon when it rained last month.

Emilia Salvatierra is still in shock after learning just five months after buying her business that her rent may double.

Juan Galvez is looking to lease a new location for his appliance store after being told by his landlord he had to move.

These are just a few of the scenarios playing out along a commercial corridor in Highland Park, and other nearby areas.

Lea este artículo en Español: ‘Gentrificación’ Presiona a Pequeños Negocios Locales

On Saturday, a coalition of community groups will hold a march and resource fair to call attention to what they call the gentrification-fueled displacement of local residents and businesses in Northeast Los Angeles by “outsiders.”

It’s a complicated issue with many sides to the same story. For some, the term gentrification evokes images of greedy developers throwing people out of their homes. For others, it represents the revitalization of the community and a chance to make some money on their property.

Caught in the middle are the people who don’t own land but nonetheless pay for it in rents and lease agreements.

“I’ve seen people coming from other states – Texas, Iowa, Utah – who want to rent here and now we are being kicked out,” said Galvez, who was recently forced to move out of his appliance store on North Figueroa Street after eight years in the same location.

Galvez said he had no choice but to leave because his tenancy was month-to-month, which worked fine with the previous property owner. “We got along well so I never renewed my lease when it expired a few years ago,” he told EGP.

He admits that the new landlord –Engine Real Estate LLC – offered to help him find a new location in the area and to help him move, but said what they showed him was not suitable. He also doesn’t have the money it would take for a new security deposit and move-in costs.

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Emily’s Shoes and Hot Stuff Haircutting and Spa are among the businesses being displaced along the Figueroa corridor. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

David Walker of Engine Real Estate told EGP they “do not want to be responsible for anyone going out of business or losing their livelihood” and they try to help tenants who cannot afford new higher rents to relocate. “Our people spend four, five days to help tenants find a new place in the same area, so they don’t lose customers or incur too much more in costs,” he said. “It’s a gesture of goodwill.”

But in the end they are in business and want to make a reasonable return on their investment, $10 million in the area between Avenue 57 and Avenue 59 on Figueroa, he said, explaining why they can’t just keep rents the same.

In the interest of full disclosure, Eastern Group Publications, publishers of this newspaper, is one of the businesses that will soon have to move from its location on Avenue 59 that is now owned by Engine Realty. As in Galvez’s case, the cost to stay was too high, and EGP decided to move to nearby Lincoln Heights. Throughout the process, Walker’s team was helpful, but there was no financial payout to move.

Decoloma’s situation is somewhat different: she still has three years left on her lease and says the new owner is trying to force her out by making her stay difficult. He removed the air conditioning unit even though she told him it was working fine. In the process, the roof was damaged and water came pouring into her shop the last time it rained, said the owner of the Hot Stuff Haircutting Salon on North Figueroa near Avenue 57. Then he refused to make repairs or replace the air conditioner because “the AC wasn’t part of her contract,” she told EGP. “He wants me to get fed up and leave,” she said angrily.

Her neighbor, the owner of Andrea’s Shoes, says her situation is worse. Not only does Salvatierra no longer have air conditioning, the month-to-month tenant says she’s in danger of losing everything because the owner wants to raise her rent from $1,830 a month to $3,457, if she signs a three to five year lease.

In an Aug. 12 letter, property manager Clint Lukens Realty cited “recent changes in the neighborhood and the market rent of retail spaces” for the large increase. “We are happy to keep you…until we find a tenant to lease at market rent,” states the letter. When that happens, Salvatierra will receive a 30 day-notice to vacate.

“I still can’t believe it; I left my job, my husband is sick. This business is all I have,” she told EGP emotionally.

Salvatierra and Decoloma have the same landlord and therefore deal with the same property manager. In an email to EGP, Clint Lukens Realty said the air conditioner was removed because, “per owner, AC never worked and was not connected to any space. New roof was installed and disconnected AC equipment was removed.”

Lukens took over management of the property in June 2015 and denies ever harassing a tenant, but could not speak for the previous management company.

According to Decoloma, she turned down a $35,000 offer to leave because it’s not enough. “I spent $24,000 to beautify this space … I provide work to two employees, I support the economy,” she lamented. “They are not just kicking me out, they are also leaving my employees and their families without income,” she said angrily.

Clint Lukens disputes her account and says he’s not made any buy out offer, but again, “I can’t speak for previous management company.”

Organizers of Saturday’s march and resource fair say they are angry and tired of the impact of gentrification on low-income, mostly Latino neighborhoods. They are demanding elected officials take a stand on what they call the “violence of displacement.”

Galvez' appliance store was temporarily relocated sharing space with a mechanic shop in the alley behind his previous location. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

Galvez’ appliance store was temporarily relocated sharing space with a mechanic shop behind his previous location . (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

Organizers include the Friends of Highland Park, Concerned Community Members, Eviction Defense Network, BKR Gang and Drug Intervention Program, NELA Alliance and the Northeast Business Economic Development.

“[Politicians] call it revitalization and it is not, it’s gentrification. They are displacing our community,” Priscilla Falter, one of the organizers told EGP. “We will ask [Councilman Gil] Cedillo to address the issue, he can’t ignore what’s going on any longer,” she said.

A majority of Highland Park’s 60,000 residents are Latino, though many consider the community diverse. Thirty-eight percent of residents live at or below the poverty line and the influx of new property owners, higher-end businesses and “large-scale luxury development projects,” residential and commercial rents have skyrocketed, according to event organizers.

Rick Coca, spokesperson for Councilman Jose Huizar, told EGP that even though Saturday’s event “isn’t in our district, staff will attend to listen to people’s concerns and offer whatever assistance we can.”

Organizers have criticized Cedillo for what they claim is a lack of response and for his holding of a Latin Jazz festival at Sycamore Grove Park that has been a year in the planning on the same day as their event, which according to Falter “will offer legal services, translations, a food bank and a mobile clinic with mental health services.

“Why are they having a jazz festival instead of addressing the real problems of the community?” she asked. “They are so afraid to talk about the issue.”

Cedillo told EGP via email that his office is studying the issue and is working with city departments to determine what action is within his jurisdiction, “since this is a private matter.”

“My office continues to look for outside the box ideas to address the ongoing issues of rent increases throughout the district and the City,” he said. “We are concerned that commercial tenants are seeing their rents increase in Highland Park.”

According to Cedillo Spokesman Fredy Ceja the issue is not unique to Highland Park and is growing.

“We are now seeing developers not just buying one piece of property, but wanting to buy whole blocks in Highland Park, Lincoln Heights and even El Sereno,” Ceja said.

Protestors want elected officials to reform and establish new rent control regulations to include businesses, and to raise the cost to “unscrupulous” landlords who evict tenants. They want them to put a stop to developments that do not address the housing crisis and to limit business permits and zoning that do not address the 38% poverty rate.

What the city can do, given private property rights, remains to be seen.

“The problem with owners is that instead of coming and talking to us, they are very cold-blooded,” Decoloma told EGP. She said the most frustrating part for her is that she is being asked to leave the location to make room for another hair salon.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.

Walker said he doesn’t understand why people paint all development with the same brush and see it as always bad.

“I don’t understand their objection to our purchase of Frank’s Camera [on Figueroa], for example. It was vacant for 8 years, run down, a drug den and we are spending a lot of money to clean it up, to attract new businesses that are going to bring new life and businesses to Highland Park,” Walker said. Not to mention a lot of new tax dollars that “we won’t see most of.”

Saturday’s protest will start in the corner of York Boulevard and North Figueroa Street by the flagpole at 4pm, stopping at Cedillo’s office and ending in the parking lot behind Antigua Café where the resource fair will be held.

Volunteers will include pro-bono attorneys, translators and mental heath workers.

—-

Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

Update 8/21/15 2:50 p.m.: spelling error

Winners and Loser In Gentrification

August 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Much is being said and will continue to be said about the displacement of residents when real estate in a neighborhood suddenly becomes hot.

As property values go up and buyers are willing to pay more, a growing number of residents find they are facing higher rents and the real prospect of dislocation,

Depending on who’s talking, someone in these transactions is doing something wrong; or right.

Unfortunately, there will always be winners and losers when real estate is involved.

But is it fair to criticize homeowners who want to sell their properties for more than what they were worth during the mortgage crisis?

Studies have shown that for Latinos, their greatest source of wealth comes from home ownership. It’s what they depend on to get them through their retirement years or to pay for a child’s college education.

On the flip side, the cost of rent is a deterrent to eventual home ownership or saving for the future, because a large portion of a lower-wage workers’ income goes to cover housing expenses.

The issue has become more critical as housing has become less affordable and fewer affordable housing units are being built.

Residential housing is not the only area where the impact of “gentrification” is being felt.

In Highland Park, small businesses are being displaced when commercial buildings are sold to investors who buy at top prices for commercial property in hot areas.

Many small businesses that have managed to survive during tough economic times now find themselves on the outs because they did not have long-term leases in place and cannot afford the higher rents developers need to charge to cover their costs and to see a return on their investment.

In many ways, the unfolding story is one that sheds light on the inequality of business acumen that exists in this changing market. Small business owners used to doing business on a handshake and a promise are finding that hard work alone will not keep them alive.

The reality is that many small shops and cafes just don’t have the resources to be able to move and pay rental deposits for a new location. They work on lean margins, because for a long time the majority of their customers were low-income and unable to afford high prices.

It’s a vicious circle.

Who’s to blame? There is no easy answer.

New mortgages must be paid; taxes and the cost of refurbishing old buildings to their former glory require large investment of capital.

What’s the solution? Again, there’s no easy answer.

What’s clear is that small business owners, many who are Latino or Asian and have English as second language, need assistance gaining the business skill sets that will allow them to protect their businesses and to stay in business.

To often, local city officials talk about helping small businesses, but that’s as far as it gets.

It’s not likely to go over well, but perhaps what we need is to require new businesses owners applying for their first business license to attend a boot camp that will help them get the skills they need, like what’s involved in leasing property, in this marketplace.

As a society, it’s in our interest for our government to provide services to small business owners who are in danger of losing their investments and equity, after all they do the bulk of hiring in this country..

If thi suggestion sounds to paternalistic, we’re open to suggestions.

We believe that property owners should be entitled to sell and new owners should be entitled to make a reasonable return on their investment.

It’s a tough situation we at EGP know first hand. The offices where we are located have been sold and we must undertake the heavy cost of moving to another location.

It’s no ones fault; it’s just the way things are. We understand the financial risk investors are taking when they enter a new market, and empathize with those who feel the burden of paying for the risk.

Developers Told to Adjust ‘Affordable’ Rent Criteria

May 18, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

New “affordable” housing planned for Boyle Heights will be too expensive for the eastside neighborhood’s low-income residents, affordable housing developers were told last week during the first of several community meetings planned to discuss projects being built on Metro-owned land.

Approximately 120 people attended the meeting at Casa del Mexicano, a long time community center now under the management of nonprofit neighborhood asset builder and housing developer East Los Angeles Community Corporation, (ELACC), which together with Abode Communities, another nonprofit developer, coordinated the “Affordable Housing 101” workshop on May 7.

Lea este artículo en Español: Residentes de Boyle Heights Cuestionan Nuevos Proyectos de Vivienda Asequible

The plan was to explain in easy to understand terms why more affordable housing is needed and what it takes —from political will to sufficient revenue — to get it built. The developers hoped their Power Point presentation — loaded with data on the current affordable and market-rate housing pool, wages, and rents — and the hands-on activities they’d planned would adequately explain their costs and the formula they used to set income eligibility requirements, but that turned out not to be the case.

One affordable housing project in Boyle Heights is located on the corner of First and Soto Street. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

One affordable housing project in Boyle Heights is located on the corner of First and Soto Street. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Instead, for nearly two hours, ELACC and Abode fielded questions and comments challenging their interpretation of “affordable,” and the data they used to get there.

“Your numbers are going way up and we are way below” the low-income numbers you are using, shouted one resident in response to the eligibility income levels included in the developers’ presentation.

Located just east of downtown Los Angeles, Boyle Heights is over 94% Latino, very dense with little vacant space, which makes developments on Metro’s four vacant lots targets for closer scrutiny.

The lots are located at 1st Street and Soto; Cesar Chavez and Soto; 1st Street and Boyle and 1st Street and Lorena.

The “Boyle Heights Median Family Income is $35, 343,” compared to the $81,000 Area Median Income for all of Los Angeles County, according to the neighborhood advocacy group Union de Vecinos, which states “two-thirds of the proposed housing to be built on vacant MTA lots will be unaffordable to Boyle Heights residents.”

The group says ELACC and Abode are using the Area Median Income for the County when they should be using Boyle Height’s lower median income to calculate eligibility.

According to ELACC, a family of four with an Area Median Income (AMI) of $24,900 or less would pay $560 for a two-bedroom apartment, while families making up to $33,200 would pay $747 for the same apartment.

Most financial planners recommend against spending more than 25% of your income on housing, a difficult task in today’s extremely tight housing market. According to the developers’ presentation, 61% of renters in Boyle Heights spend more than 30% of their income on rent, while 34% pay more than 50% of income on rent.

“I earn $1,150 per month with three members in my family and I pay $740 for rent,” said Salvador, a resident of Boyle Heights. “I have to go to churches to ask for food,” he said, telling the developers they should base rental rates on what a person living below the poverty level actually earns.

In the 6.2 square-mile area of Boyle Heights, about 18% of people live in “severely” overcrowded households, according to the American Community Survey 2009-2013.

Of the rental units available in Boyle Heights, 8% (1,311) are affordable, the rest, 92% (15,054) are market rate units, according to ELACC.

ELACC President Isela Gracian tried to reassure the audience that they are not working against the low-income community, but are on their side trying to build more affordable housing. She emphasized, however, that one project is not going to solve the affordable housing crisis, citing as an example of the great need ELACC’s experience with the 53-unit Sol y Luna complex that recently opened in Boyle Heights. She said they received over 2,000 applications for the 53 available units.

Not all the applicants were from Boyle Heights, she said, explaining that federal law prohibits discriminatory advertising in housing, so people from everywhere were eligible to apply. About 50% of the current residents at Sol y Luna are from Boyle Heights, she said.

Ana Hernandez said Boyle Heights residents like her worry that “developers will not build enough” housing to meet the huge need.

Union de Vecinos member Elizabeth Blaney told EGP they are concerned that the stated eligibility income levels “don’t really match” the real median income in Boyle Heights, which is below $25,000.

She said gentrification is adding to the problem. “Families are being displaced due to the high rent and locals have to go somewhere else because they cannot afford the market rate rent,” Blaney said, adding that the proportion of affordable units to market rate units is much too low. The group wants Metro to tell its developers to build more units for families making less than $25,000 a year. Otherwise, the proposed projects will continue to displace low-income tenants and not meet the needs of the community, she said.

According to Gracian, they use the AMI guidelines set by the Federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), which are updated each year. “The minimums [income levels] are not set because those are linked to the actual rents for the apartments. An individual could qualify for a unit that is at the 30% AMI with income as low as $15,000 a year, the $17,130 is a maximum,” she explained.

Although there were many heated comments made at the meeting, Gracian said they did not feel they were being attacked because they understand the serious housing problems low-income families face. “They underscore the urgency and need for affordable housing, we need more residents to advocate for this,” she said.

 

More meetings are scheduled, for the complete list, www.elacc.org.

—-

Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

 

Addressing Homeless Problems in Northeast L.A.

February 26, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Representatives of various city and county housing and mental health agencies, elected officials, law enforcement, nonprofit groups, residents and the homeless gathered Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on issues of homelessness in Northeast Los Angeles. While some complained about trash, illegal camping and public safety, others defended the rights of the homeless and called for policies that go beyond “sweeping the problem away.”

The meeting was held at Ramona Hall, a parks and recreation facility adjacent to Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street.

There’s been an ongoing problem with litter and illegal dumping in the area. Residents and a local school have repeatedly complained sidewalks are being taken over by the homeless and their possessions. They fear using the park for recreational activities, despite the city on more than one occasion sending in crews to clean up the area.

Much of the discussion focused on the rights of the homeless and the need for more services to help them. Panelists answered questions about what can be done to lessen the impact on local neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

They were asked about the process for dealing with the seemingly ever-growing number of homeless encampments along the Arroyo Seco Parkway and in public spaces like the 200-acre Debs Park in Montecito Heights; panelists repeatedly responded that the homeless have rights too and need more services to assist them. “When you move them from one corner, they just wind up on another corner,” pointed out one of the speakers. That’s not the solution.

Someone in the audience asked why the city isn’t looking into designating campgrounds where they can live in Northeast L.A..

Senior lead officers from the LAPD’S Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions said their goal is to not to arrest unless there is a real danger, but to try to encourage the homeless to get services; an approach shared by neighborhood prosecutors for Hollenbeck and Northeast who said they try to deescalate situations rather than prosecute the homeless.

Several panelists pointed out that many of the homeless have deep roots and ties to the neighborhoods.

“They are locals, moving out of the area is not an option for them,” said John Urquiza, a member of the Northeast Alliance.

There are not enough beds, transitional housing or wrap-around services available in the northeast area and they do not want to go to shelters in Skid Row or El Monte, speakers said. They’d rather live on the street, it’s a lifestyle said one of the speakers.

Everybody would like an apartment, countered Rebecca Prine with the Homeless Coalition and Recycled Resources, which does outreach to and collects data on the homeless in Northeast L.A.

They feel safe living along the Arroyo because at some point they were residents somewhere nearby, she said. Some of her clients have families in the area, she said.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimated there are 68,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Out of those, more than 31,000 suffer of a physical or mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, anxiety, etc. Today, there are an estimated 44,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Urquiza said that Highland Park has become one of the most expensive areas to live, with rent averaging $1,800 a month. “Nobody talks about housing, they all talk about revitalization,” he said.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Field Deputy Sylvia Robledo told the audience her boss has made affordable housing one of his top priorities and on Wednesday would introduce a motion calling on the city administrator to comprehensively study how the city is using it’s $9 billion in federal funds to provide transitional housing.

The issue is complex, there is not one single solution, said Martin Schlagetev, Councilman Jose Huizar’s aid in charge of homeless issues. He discussed how the councilman’s office is working comprehensively on the issue, from cleaning streets to bringing in county social workers to work with the homeless simultaneously.

Ron is homeless and attended Tuesday’s town hall. He said the homeless feel harassed by the police and park rangers. He accused them of pushing him out of his camp and to the riverbed.

He said there are too many rules and it takes too long to get services. “Go get a TB check, go fill out a survey, do something” and you’re still waiting six months later.

Richard Renteria counsels the homeless and said most of those he’s interviewed are afraid to  live in Skid Row shelters.

“The majority of people here are one check away from being homeless and if I became homeless, I’d rather live here in the Arroyo than in the shelters that I serve,” he said.

For nearly two hours, several residents sat quietly waiting for a chance to discuss their concerns, growing increasingly frustrated, and in some cases angry, that nothing was being said about their right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

Minutes before the meeting was to end, Edward Carreon finally had a chance to speak. He said he understands homelessness cannot be addressed in one day, that more affordable housing and services for the homeless are needed, but he wants the city and police to do something to protect his and his family’s rights.

“Not all the homeless are good people like it’s been said here,” he said. A lot of them are really bad characters. They are selling and shooting up heroine, and there’s a chop shop where they sell stolen bikes. You come across them having sex in the bushes at Debbs Park, Carreon said. “I can’t even take my daughter out anymore, I don’t feel safe.”

The city needs to step up police patrols to protect residents in the area, he said, before being cut off by the meeting moderator who said they were out of time and had to adjourn.

Immediately following the meeting, several residents said they attended the meeting because they were worried about the growing number of homeless in their neighborhoods and how aggressive some have become.

Kim Hepner has lived in Montecito Heights since 2002 and said she was frustrated that people like her who had followed the rules and waited quietly to ask questions were never given a chance to speak. The meeting was all about the rights of he homeless, she said.

“What about those of us who want to use the park to exercise? There’s a big problem with obesity in this area and people need the park,” she said. “People are afraid, I can’t even walk my dog in the park anymore, she said.

“We used to have gang problems” when I first moved to Montecito Heights, but that got better. Now it’s the homeless and it’s “very unsafe out there,” she told EGP.

She said thanks to the Next Door mobile app she is able to discuss the issues with people living in her neighborhood.

“There are a lot of us on there and we talk about how we can protect each other,” she said. “We watch out for each other” and talk about the illegal homeless encampments, dumping and other illegal activities in the park, Hepner said.

Speaking after the meeting, the residents said they understand the frustration of the homeless, but someone needs to understand them and their safety concerns.

Officer Craig Orange with the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast division told the audience that it is not a crime to be homeless, but more resources are needed to address the issue. “We can’t assume that just clean ups are the solution, or mental health help or housing, it is a combination of all” these things, he said.

 

EGP Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

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