No longer welcome

Since October 2017, Exposition Boulevard tenants have worked with the Los Angeles
Tenants Union to extend their stay or receive compensation for their relocation.

By Kate Sequeira, News Editor

Photos by Terry Nguyen

The six-building complex were planned to be developed into USC student housing after the tenants left, according to a pamphlet uncovered by Capital and Main.

After 14 years of living in the same apartment, Steven Baldwin came home one day in October to find a notice taped to his door. It read that he and his family had 60 days to move out, because the tenants of his building, along with six other buildings along the 1100 block of Exposition Boulevard, were being evicted.

The property owners, who bought the complex in Sept. 2017, are planning to convert the units into housing for USC students following the current residents’ eviction, according to an eviction notice acquired by the Daily Trojan.

Many of the current residents, including Baldwin, are now working with advocate organizations to file a lawsuit against the property owners since they believe their eviction is unfair.

“We’re mad at USC [for] building up in our community and … developers [for coming] here and buying up our whole block,” Baldwin said. “[They] expect us just to move now. For one, it’s seniors here, it’s people with fixed income, it’s people in Section 8 pilot program and people don’t have money saved … It’s going to be hard for people to find places.”

Although the University itself is not building new properties on Exposition Boulevard, many landlords are working to make their housing units specifically for USC students. However, the University said it has worked to support housing initiatives for community members.

“We have provided the city with $20 million to support affordable housing initiatives and established a housing law clinic to support members of the community,” USC said in a statement emailed to the Daily Trojan.

And although landlords cannot legally discriminate against any prospective tenants, the units within the complex are to be priced at around $1,000 a person per month, according to a pamphlet obtained by the online publication Capital and Main. The price is inaccessible to many members of the community. Baldwin said he currently pays around $1,700 per month for a three-bedroom unit that houses six people.

Currently, the buildings are mostly occupied by residents who qualify for Section 8 housing, a government-sponsored program that provides rent subsidies to private landlords on behalf of low-income individuals and families, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Tracie Pierson, a tenant of seven years at the complex, said she was shocked when she saw the eviction notice. She never thought she would lose her home due to an eviction. She had just renewed her year-long lease and recently painted and laid down new carpet in her unit.

Under California law, landlords are required to give a written 60-day notice to tenants who have rented for at least one year and a 90-day notice to tenants under Section 8 housing. The landlords must notify the tenants either in person or by attaching a notice to the rental unit and mailing a second copy. For buildings that do not fall under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, landlords are not required to provide a reason for eviction, according to the Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department website.

Pierson said she received this notice on time, but was not expecting it. “You give me a paper saying you’re honoring all leases and all deposits and two weeks later you’re going to give me a 90-day notice,” Pierson said. “That’s exactly the way it went down and it threw me for a loop.”

Landlords are also required to provide a “just cause” for eviction to Section 8 tenants like Pierson.

According to the eviction notice, the eviction cause for this case is that the owners have chosen to no longer participate in the Section 8 program. If tenants do not act on the eviction notices, landlords can then file an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit, but tenants can also file complaints with an enforcement agency.

Pierson is disabled but with special circumstances, meaning her unit has accommodations such as handicap bars and a handicap shower. She is now worried about finding affordable housing that would meet her needs.

Since Pierson first found out about the eviction, she said the corresponding stress has had a significant impact on her health, causing her to spend the week of her January eviction date at the hospital in the Intensive Care Unit.

“They say stress is a silent killer, I was stressed out about having to move, being put out of my unit, not having the money to relocate,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, how I was going to get the help with no family members, nobody here to help me because I’m in that unit by myself.”

At a weekly meeting, a tenant discusses her latest concerns about how trash is not being taken out of her building.

Since receiving the notices in October, Baldwin, Pierson and other tenants have stayed to fight the eviction with the help of the L.A. Tenants Union, an organization focused on advocating for affordable housing and universal rent control. They hope to stay at the complex permanently or be compensated for their relocation.

“We got rights and you can’t just come around and buy a property and just want to just throw somebody out like we’re just nothing and like we’re not even human,” Baldwin said. “[The owners are] contributing to the homeless crisis in California. There’s already too much going on and [they don’t] care about that.”

With the help of the Eviction Defense Network, a network of lawyers and advocates who work to provide housing justice for tenants in Los Angeles County, the Exposition Boulevard tenants have filed a lawsuit against the property owners, accusing them of retaliation and discrimination.

The trial is set for May 1, but Eviction Defense Network Executive Director Elena Popp believes it will likely be pushed back several months, giving the tenants more time to prepare for possible outcomes. She and Christina Sanchez Juarez, an L.A. Tenants Union case worker for the Exposition Boulevard tenants, also said the tenants have requested to meet the property owners face-to-face, but the owners have refused.

A tenant opens the cabinet in her kitchen, revealing a severe roach infestation. Despite multiple requests for an inspector to come by her unit, she says there has been no response.

The property owners have not responded to the Daily Trojan’s multiple requests for comment by phone.

The Eviction Defense Network is considering pursuing a lawsuit to give residents monetary damages for the tenants due to poor living conditions and what they have described as harassing behaviors from the property owners, Popp said.

“Most of the time, landlords hide behind their management companies,” Juarez said. “They’ll hide behind their lawyers, but they don’t actually look at their tenants [or] really listen to their stories about what they’re going through right now and how painful this process has been for them.

To fight the eviction, the L.A. Tenants Union sends case workers weekly to strategize with tenants. With the help of the union’s members, the tenants sent a letter to the owners in late November, asking them to address the units’ poor living conditions, which included broken appliances and bug infestations, and to provide them with more than 60 to 90 days to move.

“We very quickly realized there were a lot of people on fixed income, a lot of folks who were disabled, multi-generational families living in the apartment buildings,” Juarez said. “So folks who we knew, right away, were going to struggle to find alternative housing if they had to leave these units.”

The new owners have begun remodeling the units of those who have already left the property, but have left those of the remaining tenants untouched. Juarez said that several of the units are infested with cockroaches and termites, but the new landlords have not addressed this issue.

“I thought everything was going to change [when we got a new owners],” Baldwin said. “I thought we were going to be more secure around here, and he was going to come fix the problems. He didn’t do nothing – he just came and gave us the notices to get out.”

Baldwin said his apartment has had termites for eight years and that during the summer, they can be seen crawling along the window sill and in the streets. He said the termite infestation has not been resolved.

In protest of their evictions, some tenants have put up posters on their windows. One of the signs addressed to the landlords was plastered with dead cockroaches. It read “Meet your other tenants.”

“They’re going around trying to beautify the place but they’re not fixing the bones of these buildings, so USC students or who they’re trying to get in here might move here because it looks nice from the outside,” Baldwin said.

After several reports to the HCID, the owners began doing some repairs. But Juarez said these repairs have been mediocre since she believes the ultimate goal is to get the tenants out.

The department did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

Since gaining the help of the LA. Tenants Union, the Exposition Boulevard tenants and union have been holding rallies, recruiting support from USC student organizations and spreading awareness of their situation to neighbors.

“It’s just not us,” said Sharon Porter, who has been a tenant on the block for eight months. “The buildings are being bought by other managements so it was astounding to realize we’re not the only people.”

Next door to the buildings, T.R.U.S.T. South L.A. is constructing Rolland Curtis Gardens, a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development.

The TOD is intended to create an area that is convenient and affordable by serving as a development within walking distance from a transit station that will contain housing, jobs and entertainment.

Tenants of the former Rolland Curtis Garden buildings were asked to vacate in 2016, but were told they could come back after construction if they wished. In 2012, T.R.U.S.T South L.A. had helped the same tenants fight a similar eviction to that of the Exposition Boulevard tenants after a property owner attempted to convert the complex into USC housing.

Despite stated goals from property owners to market their housing toward USC students, the University said it has been working on providing its students with more housing options, and financially supporting affordable housing in the surrounding area.

“USC is a longtime community partner, including in the area of housing,” the University said in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “Just this year, the University has increased its student housing inventory by 35 percent to help reduce pressure on the local market.”

Though the Exposition Boulevard tenants are not sure if they will be able to stay permanently, they intend to stay as long as they can.

“Where you live has a lot to do with how you function,” Porter said. “I just think that the tenants that are standing they’re standing for a good cause. They have good reasoning for wanting to stay here. They’re just trying to fight for their rights because this is where they have to lay their heads at night.”