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In LA, Calls For Eviction Ban To Cover All — Not Just Some — As Virus Spreads

The following article was originally published March 30, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

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Story by Josie Huang

 

Dieu Pham, 70, takes part in an anti-eviction protest outside her apartment building in August 2019. A new owner is trying to evict the tenants now. | Josie Huang/LAist
Dieu Pham, 70, takes part in an anti-eviction protest outside her apartment building in August 2019. A new owner is trying to evict the tenants now. | Josie Huang/LAist

A looming eviction has not been good for Dieu Pham's blood pressure. Now, throw a pandemic into the mix.

You may remember Pham as the grandmother who last year fought eviction and won, along with her fellow tenants, who are all immigrants from Southeast Asia. The building was eventually sold.

But now, Pham's new landlord V.F. Developments is planning a big renovation — which involves having all the tenants out of their apartment complex on the Chinatown-Echo Park line by mid-April. All this during an expected surge of COVID-19 cases.

"I just want to be at home during this time," Pham, 70, said in Vietnamese as her niece interpreted. "If I'm evicted, where am I going to live?"

The L.A. City Council recently passed a ban on evictions but it's targeted at tenants who can show they were affected by COVID-19, including those financially affected.

Tenants seeking eviction protection would have to produce documentation such as medical bills or termination notices.

This has advocates and some city officials pushing to extend eviction protections to all, saying renters — the majority of Angelenos — should be able to stay home and shield themselves and others from COVID-19.

"If you are evicted right now, you literally cannot abide by the Mayor's stay-at-home order," said Councilman Mike Bonin during Friday's council meeting. "You are not going to be able to be shopping for a unit. You're going to have a hard time finding a moving company to move your stuff."

 

'OPEN HUNTING SEASON ON LANDLORDS'

Landlord groups say a universal evictions moratorium would be ripe for abuse by problem tenants were it to pass.

It would be "like open hunting season on landlords," said Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. "Nobody would pay the rent if that were the case."

Enough councilmembers held similar fears that they voted down Bonin's proposed "blanket" moratorium on evictions during the council meeting Friday. The measure was one vote shy of the eight votes needed. (Councilmen Curren Price and Paul Krekorian recused themselves because they're landlords, according to each of their representatives.)

Councilman Joe Buscaino said he was concerned a moratorium didn't address tenants partying or engaging in drug-dealing or prostitution. Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who also voted no, questioned the need for any moratorium given the current shutdown in the civil courts.

 

 

'A CENTRAL DEMAND'

Despite the council's rejection of stalling all evictions, housing activists are not giving up.

"I think it will come up before the City Council again," said Craig Wong, an advocate with Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. "That's a central demand of every housing rights and tenants group in the city."

Sunday night, demonstrators drove their cars in front of Mayor Eric Garcetti's house in Hancock Park to demand the moratorium, as well as a freeze on rent and rent forgiveness.

 

PROTESTING WHILE SOCIALLY DISTANCING

The tenants at 920 Everett Street hope city policy will change so they can stay in their units. In the meantime, they're working with the activists at Chinatown Community For Equitable Development to pressure their landlord, VF Developments, to back down from evicting them.

VF Developments' principal Victoria Vu would not comment on 920 Everett Street at this time, according to her lawyer, Linda Hollenbeck.

In the past, the tenants would have gone to protest in front of Vu's residence. When the previous owner of their building tried evicting them last year, Pham and other tenants went to Brentwood with protest signs looking for his home.

After that episode, then-owner American Collateral Buyers put the property on the market and sold it to VF Developments in January for nearly $2 million.

But given orders to socially distance, the tenants and activists cannot plan an in-person protest. Instead, they've taken to social media to pressure Vu, like with this video:

Dieu Pham said she celebrated months ago when American Collateral sold the building and dropped eviction efforts, but she felt uneasy when VF Developments became the new landlord.

"My gut told me," Pham said.

What it didn't tell her is that eviction would coincide with the biggest health crisis of her lifetime.

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