After a Bitter Battle to Stay, South L.A. Residents Face Displacement
The mood was somber, defiant and quietly triumphant at a block party rally on August 19, in South Central Los Angeles at 1100 Exposition where 85 residents are being displaced at the end of August. Over 50 people along with several members of the Los Angeles Tenant Union were on hand as many of the tenants spoke about their frustrations along with a few musical performances and videos as the sun slowly set over Exposition Boulevard. Though the residents will all be out of the building by August 31, they have waged an intense battle with the new owner and brought a lot of attention to the rampant displacement happening across their neighborhood and all of Los Angeles.
It’s no secret that residential displacement is rapidly changing the face of neighborhoods across America in Brooklyn, San Francisco, Chicago, Oakland and Southern California. Los Angeles neighborhoods like Highland Park, Boyle Heights and South Central continue to lose long-term residents to rising rents and opportunistic landowners that only care about the dollar.
This latest case in South Los Angeles involves a seven-building site along Exposition Boulevard a block west of USC and across the street from the Vermont Station along the Expo Line. Located just west of Vermont and east of Catalina Street, the coalition of Black and Brown residents from the building at 1100 Exposition have refused to leave quietly. They have been fighting the new owner of their site for over ten months now. It all started when their building was purchased last September by Chung Suk Kim for $8.5 million.
According to an article written on June 2nd, 2018 in the Washington Post by Rob Kuznia, “Eviction notices for all 80 residents – almost all of them black or Latino – went up a few weeks later, indicating that the owner wanted to convert the units, located near the University of Southern California, into student housing.” Most of the eviction notices were for 60 days, and the residents on Section 8 were given 90 days.
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Shortly after their building was purchased and they received the evictions notices, the residents started to protest. First, in December of 2017, they had a rally in front of the building with dozens of tenants declaring that the fight was on. Aligned with the L.A. Tenants Union, they staged a rent strike where they refused to pay rent.
In March of 2018, they went to the new landlord’s house in Buena Park to protest and then in April and May, on three separate occasions a few dozen of the residents even drove down to Orange County to protest in front of the landlord’s daughters’ home in Fullerton. In each of these cases, they chanted protest slogans in front of the homes before the police were eventually called. They have also protested at a strip mall in Koreatown owned by the landlord.
The recent rally and barbecue on August 19 was co-organized with the Los Angeles Tenants Union to stage one more final protest and to not only call attention to the residents’ sadness for losing their longtime home but to also celebrate that they fought for so long.
This stretch of Exposition is less than 100 feet from the Metro Expo Line and many of the residents feel like this part of the city was never really desirable to developers until the train line opened in the last six years. Located on the southern edge of the USC campus and next to the former Rolland Curtis Gardens along Exposition, several other buildings along the same block have changed owners in the last few years.
A CapitalandMain.com article by Charles Davis cites Los Angeles County records, “at least 24 buildings within 1,000 feet of their apartments have been sold in the last two years.”
Mary White has lived at 1100 Exposition for over ten years. “There should be laws against landlords just putting people out on the street,” she says. “It would be one thing if we hadn’t paid our rent.” She is also upset at the buildings previous owner who sold the building quickly last year without preparing anyone. “We could have prepared for this,” she exclaims. She also says that the previous owner never cleaned anything up and that the building has always been overrun with roaches.
Not Everyone is Internet Savvy
White is frustrated with the process of finding a new place too. “Everything is now on the internet,” she says. “What if you don’t have a computer? Not everyone is internet savvy.” White also adds, “It used to be so much easier when they had all the apartment listings in the classified section of the newspaper.” She feels like she has nowhere to go.
Her frustrations are echoed by fellow tenant Steven Baldwin. Baldwin has been looking for another place, but he’s getting tired of paying the mandatory credit checks every time he inquires about a building. “How many times do I have to pay $45 to have my credit checked?” he asks. Baldwin has never had any evictions or bankruptcies, and he’s lived there for 15 years. He also feels like a lot of managers take a look at him and instantly assume he is irresponsible before they even talk with him.
Baldwin is a single father of two children and an alumnus of Manual Arts High School, and now his 15-year-old son is attending there as well. As a lifelong resident of South Central, Baldwin’s never known anywhere else.
The tenants are frustrated with their local councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson and with USC. They feel like no one is looking out for them. “Our local politicians have shown no interest in our story at all,” Baldwin states.
Instead, Baldwin says all they talk about is the new Banc of California soccer stadium recently built for the Los Angeles Football Club and the forthcoming George Lucas Museum, both structures in Exposition Park, less than a mile east of their apartment. “The Olympics are coming in ten years too,” he says. Then there’s the new $700 Million University Village complex on Jefferson a mile north with the Trader Joe’s, Target and hundreds of luxury units.
His sons used to say that they wanted to go to USC. Now his 10-year-old-son has woken up several times in the middle of the night having crying spells. Similar sentiments are also spoken by Jackelin Lopez. Lopez is a Spanish speaker, and her responses to me were translated at the barbecue by L.A. Tenants Union member, Rene Christian Moya.
“We have to start from scratch again,” says Lopez as her two children sit on her lap. Lopez, her husband, and their two children have lived there six years now. She’s upset about being uprooted and also about her daughter changing elementary schools. Lopez has been one of the most outspoken tenants, while many of the tenants have yet to find a new home.
Tenacity and Resistance
Paul Lanctot from the Los Angeles Tenants Union has been working closely with the residents over the last year. Though he is frustrated with the building’s fate, he is moved by the tenacity, resistance and strength demonstrated by the tenants. “I felt the barbecue was a much-needed change of pace,” Lanctot says. “It’s rare to have time for celebration and reflection given the urgency of these struggles. Looking back on all that had happened in the last ten months... realizing how much can truly happen in that amount of time was something else. The bonds that were built, that community that grew out of it... even though this isn’t the outcome we fought for, that night there could be no mistaking the victories that were won.”
A quiet sense of solidarity could be felt throughout the crowd at the barbecue. In addition to a few inspiring speeches, there were a few protest posters addressed to USC and their councilmember. Their struggle together shows what can happen when residents put aside differences to unite in a common cause.
L.A. Tenants Union member Rene Christina Moya also played an instrumental role in the 10-month campaign because of his Spanish speaking skills. Though Moya downplays his involvement, he bridged gaps and helped build solidarity between the Black and Brown tenants with his language skills. "Though I only played a supporting role in the Expo tenants' struggle,” Moya states, “stepping in to assist the key organizers as necessary and to assist with language justice, I was proud to have done so.”
Many of the tenants barely knew each other when they first found out about the eviction notice, but they ended up bonding after organizing the rent strike and taking the trips to protest in Koreatown and Orange County. “I was inspired,” Moya tells me, “by the tenants' tenacity, their fortitude and their eloquence in defense of their homes. I learned much from them, and I am hopeful we can arrive at a time these injustices are a thing of the past."
Hundreds of other similar battles are currently waging across America. In Los Angeles County, similar struggles are currently on in not just South Central, but Boyle Heights, Highland Park, Inglewood, Long Beach and even in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys. The L.A. Tenants Union recently created a pamphlet they call the “Tenant Handbook,” which explicitly outlines tenant rights. They are also heavily campaigning in favor of Proposition 10 which repeals the Costa-Hawkins Act from 1995 and allows cities to pass their own rent control policies. Many politicians have cited the Costa-Hawkins Act as the reason why they have not been able to help renters more. If Prop 10 passes, they will no longer have this excuse.
In the meantime, residents like Steven Baldwin, Mary White, Jackelin Lopez and the L.A. Tenants Union wonder if any politicians or policymakers will join the fight for tenants’ rights. If the case of the residents at 1100 Exposition teaches us anything, it is that when residents band together to protest injustice they can make a big difference. Though they are losing their homes, their efforts have been nothing short of phenomenal and go a long way to make sure that these types of incidents do not keep happening.