Housing Crisis: “We are ready for the fight and the fight begins now. It’s L.A.’s opportunity to do things right”, Henry Perez

Henry Perez began his political activism during his university years, but his social consciousness awakened since he was a child.

“I used to help my dad, Manuel Perez, distribute carrots in the wealthy areas of Southern California, where I clearly saw the difference between the rich and the poor. Those big mansions contrasted with the hardworking people who worked on those properties,” says the Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle, an organization that educates and takes action on various social causes.

His activism at UCLA was sparked during the times of Proposition 187 and later with Proposition 209, which targeted Affirmative Action.

“The movement to defend Affirmative Action also highlighted for Henry the significance of higher education for low-income communities of color and the barriers that these communities face in reaching that goal,” he shares in his biography on his website.

Perez was very sensitive to the immigration issue. His mother had been undocumented, and the immigration raids had affected her.

“I was very close to those issues. My mother worked in downtown Los Angeles, where she packed the carrots that my dad would later pick up. That’s where they met. My dad would come with boxes of sweet bread as a gift for the workers, flirt with them, but in the end, he noticed my mom,” Henry Perez says.

His mother, Gloria, would tell him about the fear they worked under there; many times Immigration would arrive, and the danger of deportation was imminent.

Henry says that when he arrived at UCLA, he did so filled with courage and anger at all the inequalities; he had to do something.

“The good thing was that I put all those feelings into practice, positively, I got involved against those propositions. UCLA was a hotbed of political activity, and I arrived at the right time,” he adds.

Henry Perez always questioned injustices, the poor, and the rich.

“Why do things have to be this way?” he would say.

Soon after, he joined InnerCity Struggle, where he leads different projects that affect the community, especially in housing.

“Henry joined InnerCity Struggle in 2005 as the organization’s first full-time Coordinator of Familias Unidas (FaU). As coordinator of FaU, he led the outreach, recruitment, and leadership development of hundreds of Eastside parents and residents, building a solid base of adults that continue to be a voice for change in the Eastside. Since 2009, Henry has led InnerCity Struggle’s focus on Integrated Voter Engagement (IVE). His leadership in IVE has led to ICS engaging tens of thousands of Eastside voters and winning their support for progressive ballot measures. More recently, Henry has played the lead role in developing ICS’ strategy in their Housing Justice work to protect tenants and prevent displacement of East Los Angeles’ most vulnerable residents,” explains his bio.

Henry mentions that the most critical moments of activism he has experienced in his organization occurred just before the pandemic and during those long months of confinement.

“The reason, because Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, became a highly coveted area for developers. They began buying buildings, properties, and wanting to turn them into very expensive housing. Our members came to us and said they couldn’t afford the rent,” he adds.

This was something new. Before, the organization had conducted some studies on real estate development, but now it was the tenants who were in danger.

“There were several rent-controlled areas that were affected; we had to fight to defend the tenants. The fever to turn Boyle Heights into luxury condos was already set. At InnerCity Struggle, we knew that over 80 percent of the people living in that area rent their homes; they would be affected,” he says.

There were three projects that were fatal: the fight at Sears Towers, the LA River, and the construction of the Gold Line.

“All this happened before the great recession of 2007-08. After those years, the harassment and projects stopped, but they revived in 2013. By 2016, we had to face a new enemy, USC. It sought to transform Boyle Heights, wanting to build a Bio Tech corridor. And around it, housing for outsiders, restaurants, other amenities for people with money. The phenomenon of gentrification began,” he adds.

But then came the pandemic; Covid turned Boyle Heights into the epicenter of contagion and deaths in the country, along with the reduction of economic resources, unemployment, and the struggle for survival.

“Now we have a very vulnerable community, losing money, with many deaths. That’s when we started to organize to offer advice, help, and consultancy for those who couldn’t pay their rent and were facing eviction. We were in emergency mode,” says Perez.

InnerCity Struggle and other organizations formed Keep LA Housed, which seeks to inform, defend, and educate the community.

“We have to do something, or we end up on the street. Fight, ask for permanent protections,” he says.

Keep LA Housed drafted a sort of manifesto outlining their demands aimed at protecting against skyrocketing housing costs.

For Henry Perez, the fight is not easy; it’s a prolonged and ongoing struggle.

“The good thing is that we have more progressive members on the City Council who really care about the community. They are very sympathetic to this cause. There’s Hugo Soto-Martinez in District 13, Eunisses Hernandez in District 1, and Nithya Raman in District 4,” he adds.

For Henry, it all starts with recognition. Los Angeles is experiencing a housing crisis, and it must be acknowledged. Efforts should be made to not put people on the streets, in danger of becoming homeless.

“Where do they go? We are fighting against very powerful people, with a lot of money that can influence politicians. But we have the power of the people. We are getting there; we see more school teacher unions, more organizations seeing how it’s affecting them. Some are losing workers because the workers have had to move far away or even to Mexico; others are losing students and funding. We are ready for the fight, and the fight begins now. It’s an opportunity to do things right,” Henry Perez concludes.


Source: https://www.parriva.com/housing-crisis-we-are-ready-for-the-fight-and-the-fight-begins-now-its-l-a-s-opportunity-to-do-things-right-henry-perez/