LOS ANGELES – Residents at the Hillside Villa in Chinatown have been meeting and rallying in their central courtyard for months now, banging pots and pans to bring out neighbors and friends for support. They are part of a tenants’ association that is fighting to preserve their community, despite what they say has been a campaign of harassment and eviction threats from the building owner.
Rene Alexander, who has lived at Hillside Villa for 18 years, said his living community is unusually close.
“Our kids would always be in the courtyard playing with one another,” explained Alexander. “We were going to the same school functions together, and we eventually became this community, more of a family.”
Hillside Villa is just one of many buildings in L.A. that had a 30-year covenant to provide affordable housing for lower-income tenants, but that term has expired and since then residents have been hit with notices of eviction and rent increases that most cannot afford.
“If the city has to step in and turn around and say, ‘If [the landlord/owner] is not working with us and is refusing to work with us…We have a huge crisis, a homeless crisis, and a rent crisis going on and all these other things going on, we're going to have to step in and we're going to have to make this a public property.”
Talks between the owner, tenants, and the city have been tricky and the tenants continue to fight for the city to purchase the property under eminent domain, which the city has done on many occasions to purchase land for development.
“Why can't they use eminent domain to buy this piece of property that was funded by government funds to begin with?” asked Alexander.
Rosa Hernandez cleans Airbnb homes for a living, but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and now she's in limbo indefinitely.
“I'm facing an eviction that I won't have any income coming in to be able to fight my eviction,” said Hernandez.
Property owner Tom Botz would not acknowledge any rent increases. He said he is just worried about his building being “taken away,” as he calls it, although the city has already offered him $12.7 million to run the property with affordable rents for further 10 years. He declined the offer.
“Every city council member has a Facebook, has a personal website, everything else,” said Alexander. “Each one has an email. Flood their emails. Write them. That's where the fight has to be.”
Tenants at the Hillside Villa are hopeful now that City Council has voted unanimously to do a full legal investigation into the property and will vote on the eminent domain issue later this month.