LOS ANGELES — When Chinatown resident, Marina Maalouf gets stressed out, she goes outside to a garden steps away from her apartment. Maalouf, 66, has lived in the Hillside Villa apartment building for 25 years, creating lifelong memories and raising three children.

But she says when the building owner raised her rent from $950 a month to $2,660 last summer, she panicked.

“We had to decide if we’re not going to pay, not pay for food and pay only rent,” she said. Maalouf says her Social Security benefits and her husband’s wages can only cover a portion of rent.

The 124-unit building was previously under a 30-year affordability housing covenant, but it expired in 2018 and the owner, Tom Botz, can charge market-rate rents. Botz has maintained that the building is not for sale and said in a statement to Spectrum News 1 that “we want to help find a solution for those tenants who aren’t able to afford the current rents at Hillside Villa and have worked with them for the past few years, along with the city. Unfortunately, the aggressive, hostile stance and actions towards our on-site management team, our contractors, as well as towards other tenants at the building, exhibited by a handful of tenants and outside agitators, make it difficult to come to a solution.”

In May, dozens of tenants who claimed they could not afford the rent increases successfully lobbied the LA City Council to acquire the building to keep rents affordable for the next 55 years. The council directed the Los Angeles Housing Department to work with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) to appraise the building and make an offer to Botz to buy the property.

But several months have passed and Maalouf is worried about how long the process is taking, especially with the city’s eviction moratorium ending Jan. 31.

“We don’t want to move from here, you know. This area that is the place that I have my doctors; I have my dentist,” she said.

The LA Housing Department general manager, Ann Sewill, told Spectrum News 1 that “HACLA and the City tried to secure the owners’ permission to enter the property to do the appraisal, a physical needs assessment, and an environmental Phase 1 review, but were unable to reach agreement. As the next step, the city attorney filed a petition for right of entry, which was accepted for filing by the Superior Court. A Hearing on this petition is scheduled for January 30th, 2023.” 

In the meantime, Maalouf says she’s on the waitlist for a Section 8 housing voucher and has had no luck finding affordable housing in the area, which is where she wants to stay.

“I know the neighborhood and it’s hard to decide to move somewhere else,” she said.