We need our leaders to think big to actually make a dent in this housing crisis.
After over a year of organizing, the Hillside Villa Tenants Association has gotten Councilmember Gil Cedillo to begin the process of taking their building using eminent domain in order to keep it permanently affordable. He formally introduced a motion to get this started, which will come for a vote before City Council’s Housing Committee in the coming weeks.
Hillside Villa is a 124-unit “affordable housing” development that was built with $5.5 million of public money in the late 1980s. On September 1, 2020, the agreement keeping rents low expires and landlord Tom Botz — a rich white man from Malibu whose companies have been found guilty for discriminating against families because they were evicting tenants for having their children playing in courtyards — will be free to raise rents as high as he wants for the working-class people of color (many immigrants) who live at Hillside Villa. Increases will be over $1,000 or even $1,500 per month for many tenants.
It’s almost certain that a mass eviction will follow, and families, including elders and children, will be uprooted from their homes, and may end up on the streets.
Eminent domain allows the city to force Botz to sell the building. They must pay him the fair market rate of what the building is worth, and use the building for a public purpose. Botz will essentially be rewarded with millions of dollars for his decades as a slumlord.
Thousands of words could be written on why this is the right thing to do. Here are just five reasons.
1) Prevent Families From Becoming Homeless
Everyone knows we’re in the midst of an outrageous housing crisis — tens of thousands of desperately poor people are forced to try to survive without shelter on the streets of our city. For many, it’s a death toll: 3 unhoused people die per day in LA.
The reality is that families will be made homeless if Tom Botz gets his way.
There are roughly 124 families living at Hillside Villa. Many are elderly folks living on fixed incomes. Some are parents working two or three jobs just to provide a roof for their children. Some are monolingual Chinese speakers who have their whole lives in Chinatown.
If the members of City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti truly care about solving the humanitarian crisis of 60,000 people living without shelter, they can start by first protecting tenants from being unhoused by no fault of their own
2) Preserving Low-Income Housing Is Cheaper Than Building New Units
One of the main arguments we’ll hear again and again is the question “should the city really spend millions of dollars on just this one building?”
Yes — buying Hillside Villa and preserving 124 units of low-income housing is far cheaper than building it from the ground-up.
Affordable housing in LA costs over $500,000 per unit to build these days. That means it would cost $62 million to build the number of units that already exist at Hillside Villa!
By comparison, Hillside Villa could likely be bought by the city for $15 or $20 million — just around $150,000 per unit. Even, let’s say, if it costs as high as $30 million when this is all said and done, we’re still talking about half the price of building new units.
3) Tom Botz Refuses To Negotiate — Eminent Domain Is The Only Option
This past summer, the city offered Tom Botz $12.7 million to keep Hillside Villa affordable for just 10 years.
But Botz turned that deal down and instead is choosing to evict hundreds of people. This man is a cruel, heartless slumlord, and there’s no way to negotiate with him. Eminent domain is the only way to ensure families are not evicted and made homeless.
4) It’s Time To Reverse The Ugly History Of Eminent Domain
Eminent domain has historically been used to clear out poor people and give land to corporate developers. This history is all around Hillside Villa, which is a short walk from both Dodger Stadium and Bunker Hill — two popular sites made possible by the city evicting thousands of poor people.
Annie Shaw, one of the CCED organizers we’ve been working with, put it well: “The principle of eminent domain is about using public money for public good.”
It’s time to use eminent domain for the public good of protecting tenants and preserving affordable housing.
5) Human Rights Are More Important Than Property Rights
In the media, Tom Botz is crying about how the city is planning on taking his property like they would in “Cuba or Venezuela.” We must see beyond his fear-mongering rhetoric and understand what’s really at stake here.
First, again, Tom Botz will be rewarded millions of dollars for having kept the building in slumlord conditions and for harassing his tenants. Not such a bad outcome for him.
But more importantly, Botz wants you to believe that his “right” to evict all these families so he can make a profit is more important than the right to housing of the Hillside Villa tenants.
We believe in a world where housing is a human right — this means landlords can’t just make families homeless because they can make more money renting to richer folks. This should be especially true for a building that was constructed with millions of dollars of public funds in the first place. This means the city has a duty to intervene and stop this from happening.
The reasons are clear: save Hillside Villa!
This piece was written by three LATU members who have been in the struggle with Hillside Villa for over a year.