Big Developers Collude with City Hall to Wreak Havoc on Chinatown
Metro seniors unite against rent increases.
This past July, the tenants of Metro @ Chinatown Senior Lofts received notice from multi-billion dollar affordable housing developer Meta Housing Corporation that their rent would increase by 8% in August. This was on top of a 3% increase a year prior. Many tenants are elderly and live on low and fixed incomes. For some, this rent increase would leave them with little to no money for food, or push them onto the streets.
“Over the course of five years, our rent increased four times, but our [Supplemental Security Income] only went up by $2… Not even a 1% increase,” Mrs. Kwong explained. The anxiety of becoming homeless ran deep amongst the 60 elderly tenants who organized against the rent increase with the support of the Metro @ Chinatown Residents Organization (MACRO) and Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (CCED).
On August 16, close to 80 Metro tenants, Chinatown renters, and allies from the Pilipino Worker Center and Progressive Asian Network for Action protested Meta at their Westside office. “You make $900 million. We make $900,” they chanted in Chinese, Spanish and English. Under pressure, CEO John Huskey came down to speak to the major press outlets covering the protest. Tenants pushed their way towards Huskey, delivering a petition with over 9,000 signatures from supporters opposing the rent increase.
The annual median household income of Chinatown today is under $20,000 — the second lowest of any Los Angeles neighborhood. Yet CCED has identified more than 43 market-rate residential and commercial developments in Chinatown. Of these 7,795 new units, only 2% of the units will be “affordable,” in which the definition of “affordable” is based on the median regional income of $69,300, more than three times what Chinatown residents earn. Like the rest of Los Angeles low-income renters, Chinatown residents are at risk of losing their homes with nowhere to go.
A few days following the protest, Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s office informed MACRO that a deal of had been reached with Meta, but refused to provide any details. On August 23, Cedillo organized a high profile press conference with lion dancing and cake. There, he announced the backroom deal he had made with Meta and Atlas Capital, the developer of the proposed 725-unit market-rate and mixed-use College Station project in Chinatown. According to Cedillo, there would be no 8% rent increase, and the tenants should thank their “new neighbors” down the street. For 10 years, College Station would subsidize the rent increases at Metro. Cedillo had excluded Metro tenants from all negotiations despite their attempts to get involved. Alternatives to a rent increase were never on the table. In this very same month, both Meta’s CEO John Huskey and Atlas Capital’s Principal Andrew Cohen made campaign contributions to Cedillo. Since being in office, Cedillo has received multiple monetary contributions from developer. According to the city’s Ethics Commission, Atlas Capital staff have given him $16,900.
Cedillo’s dirty deal is nothing more than extortion. He and Atlas Capital are using the threat of homelessness to force local residents to support an unpopular development, against their own interests. The deal pits working class tenants in Chinatown against each other. In order to afford to remain in their homes, Metro tenants have to swallow any opposition to a fully market rate development, which will ultimately spur already increasing real estate speculation, unfair rent increases, and unjust evictions for other working class residents throughout the neighborhood.
Meta Housing’s Tenant Harassment
On September 4, Meta delivered a letter and concessions addendum to all Metro seniors that they either had to sign and return within 24 hours, or else have their rent increased automatically. Management pressured those who refused to sign by repeatedly calling and knocking on their doors. By the time the tenants were able to meet and process together, the deal was sealed.
In protest of management’s abuse, MACRO leaders pushed for an addendum that detailed this harassment, while calling out the Cedillo deal’s lack of transparency and reliability. They highlighted the fact that the proposed “solution” would only be temporary, with the remaining threat of a rent increase in 2019 if College Station does not get built.
Coercion and Bribery: Atlas Capital
The harassment did not stop with Meta. Atlas Capital, along with Cedillo’s staff, organized a meeting in November to coerce the Metro tenants into making a show of support for the College Station project. They passed out cards asking their opinion of the project with only one option: to support it. Many tenants vehemently opposed, recognizing that they should not be forced to choose between their own housing stability and supporting a development that will physically and culturally displace their community. However, feeling the pressure from both developers, some tenants filled out the cards. CCED supports all of these tenants in their fight for affordable housing, and against the threat of being evicted due to continual rent increases.
College Station is nearing the end of the city planning process. On December 13, the City Planning Commission will review the project and decide if it will head to City Council. In preparation for the hearing, Atlas has attempted to bribe Metro tenants to support the development by offering food, coffee, a raffle for televisions, and bus rides to an upcoming hearing at City Hall.
Zero Affordable Housing Units: College Station Blatantly Dismisses Community Demands
From the project’s first public scoping meeting to the release of its multiple Environmental Impact Reports (EIR), Chinatown residents have continuously demanded the inclusion of truly affordable housing and businesses that cater to the income level of the neighborhood. Yet, Atlas Capital and city leadership, including Cedillo, have failed to address concerns about the project’s negative impact on the socioeconomic, cultural, and physical landscape of Chinatown. The community has been blatantly dismissed in the only process the city has created for public input regarding development.
Chinatown is in dire need of accessible businesses and affordable housing that reflects the socioeconomic and cultural reality of a working class immigrant neighborhood. Until a community plan is created to ensure community preservation and sustainability, CCED and local Chinatown organizations have called for a moratorium on all new development and unfair rent increases. All new developments including College Station must serve Chinatown’s working class residents. Nothing should be approved or built until the city takes responsibility to protect working class residents and local businesses that exist here.
CCED will continue to fight for long-term, community-driven solutions that ensure equity for all in Chinatown. We must end the pay-to-play corruption rife throughout city hall and the extortive practices that pit residents against one other in our our working class, immigrant community. We will not let our community be ruled by greed.