A small group of tenants at four buildings owned by the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC) are protesting their eviction notices, claiming the nonprofit developer is treating them unfairly and going against a policy of no displacements set in conjunction with a coalition of nine Eastside organizations.
That coalition, Eastside Leads, announced last month that it was removing ELACC from its membership, demanding that the developer stop all pending evictions and meet jointly with the six tenants –all being evicted for non payment of rent.
ELACC says that it has attempted to negotiate payment plans with the tenants –including three at the iconic Boyle Hotel in Boyle Heights– but that it’s the tenants’ obligation to fully pay back their missed rent.
Under the city of Los Angeles COVID-19 regulations, renters were protected from eviction over debt accumulated during the pandemic. But rent was never canceled, and tenants had until Aug. 1 to pay landlords all of the rent they missed between March 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021. And tenants have until Feb. 1 to pay rent owed from Oct. 1 2021 to Jan. 31, 2023. Tenants who don’t pay those debts in full could face eviction.
According to Eastside Leads organizers, all of its coalition partners met with ELACC President and CEO Monica Mejia on Aug. 8 and tried unsuccessfully to seek a resolution for the tenants.
In a statement, Eastside Leads said that the rights of the six tenants were violated during the COVID-19 pandemic and that they were “unjustly facing evictions.”
Mejia said that ELACC has tried to work with the six tenants, but that any resolution would have to involve repayment of all past due rent. As a non profit developer, the executive said, ELACC needs to collect rent in order to pay back loans and maintain its properties.
Mejía insisted that ELACC’s model of affordable housing depends on the collection of rent and that it never agreed to a policy of no evictions because of non-payment.
“There haven’t been conversations with Eastside Leads where we’ve decided that rent [payment] is no longer required, Mejía said. “We just don’t have that kind of a system right now.”
Mejía said that for privacy concerns she could not meet with tenants as a group, but that she had offered to meet with them individually and work out a payment plan.
But Eastside Leads digital organizer Kimberly Alvarado said that conversations with ELACC were one-sided and that tenants were being offered an “unreasonable and unattainable” payment plan of 50% of unpaid rent being paid upfront, with the rest in installments.
“Where’s the humanity in that when people are struggling?” Alvarado questioned. “It’s not like these tenants don’t want to pay, it’s that they’re not in a position to do what ELACC is demanding of them.”
Alvarado said that the coalition found “other inconsistencies, discrepancies and instances of misconduct facing tenants on their properties.”
A letter from Eastside Leads dated Aug. 18 and addressed to Mejia and ELACC board chair Araceli Sandoval-Gonzalez lists a number of complaints against ELACC and a property management company. Among other requests, the Coalition asks that ELACC:
- Begin an external mediation process to address concerns and challenges faced by the six tenants.
- Issue a rent reduction for tenants facing the eviction process.
- Investigate allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment by employees of the management company.
- Withdraw pending eviction cases and announce a no eviction without mediation policy.
Following a protest by the tenants in front of ELACC’s headquarters on Aug. 23, the developer said it would launch an investigation into the harassment claims.
‘Worst Tenant in History’
Fanny Guzman, a resident of the Boyle Hotel Apartments since 2012, is one of the six tenants protesting their eviction. A single mom of a daughter with mobility impairment, she said she was unable to work during the pandemic, which led to her falling behind on rent payments.
Guzman said she recently regained employment and is willing to enter a payment plan, but cannot come up with the 50% upfront payment being asked.
Besides the current eviction, Guzman said she has suffered mistreatment and disrespect as a tenant over the years. She said a property manager called her “the worst tenant in ELACC’s history” for complaining about some of the issues she faced as a tenant, including a serious bedbug infestation in 2020.
“On top of constant disrespect by employees of the [management company] during a time when everybody was struggling, they raised my rent three times,” said Guzman. “They have a history of harassing tenants, and ELACC still decides to work with them despite complaints. They owe it to us to at least sit down and have a conversation with us as a group.”
Mejía said that ELACC supports the objectives of Eastside Leads to “protect tenants and try to expand protections for low income people” and that the organization provides housing to some 3,000 people in the Eastside whose rent payment is much lower than the market rate.
“It might be surprising to know that I actually support these protests, because they’re calling attention to a very large system issue that we do not have an adequate housing system for everybody,” said Mejia.
“If you are a tenant in one of our buildings and you’re having a difficult time paying rent, there are options,” Mejia added. “There are ways to find assistance from us or other organizations in the community. There are ways to work together to avoid an eviction, but you need to come and sit with us.”
For Guzmán, ELACC isn’t doing enough to avoid the displacement of Eastside tenants.
“I think they owe it to us to stop the evictions,” Guzman said. “I think ELACC needs to give us the opportunities as tenants to recover from the impacts of COVID-19. And they’re not giving us that opportunity.”