Gentrifiers in Inglewood Profit Off Tenants Ahead of the Super Bowl
Tenants across from SoFi Stadium have been forced to make their own repairs.
There is much talk about how wonderful things are in Inglewood these days. After all, an NFL championship game was just held at SoFi Stadium, the Super Bowl is next, and ground has been broken for a new Clippers Stadium. That all may be working well for some people, but not for many of the tenants who live in the area.
The Lennox-Inglewood Tenants Union, working with a group of tenants in a building right across the street from the stadium, has been forced to launch a campaign for volunteers and financial donations to help them repair their crumbling, infested apartments, because their landlord is refusing to do so. He wants them to move out so he can raise rents on those units as high as he wants.
In the 1920s, Inglewood was a thriving, overwhelmingly white, suburban community, with many neighborhoods considered nicer than most parts of Los Angeles itself. Many of its residents worked in the oil and nearby aviation industry. That all changed with white flight from the city in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Inglewood is currently experiencing the same double-edged sword of gentrification that is sweeping many older, predominantly Black and Latinx communities around the country. While corporations, banks and investors are becoming rich off this process, the long-term residents of these communities are not sharing in that harvest.
An apartment building located at 919 South Prairie Avenue, formerly called Inglewood Gardens (IG), is a prime example of the scourge of gentrification. In 2015, when Inglewood announced construction of the SoFi stadium across the street from IG, the 50-unit apartment building was an eyesore and in shambles, both inside and out. The apartments were all in deplorable condition. In the fall of 2019, the building was purchased by Alfa Investments, LLC. Bryan Russo, son of the principal of that company, became the manager of the building. Almost immediately, Bryan began pushing out the then-current IG tenants and started a major reconstruction and remodeling of the empty apartments and the building itself. He even changed its name to Stadium View Apartments, as if that would erase the horror which he has visited upon those tenants who have remained, refusing to be driven from their homes.
At about the time of the purchase, the Inglewood Tenants Union (ITU) began making contact with IG tenants. Several months later, ITU became the Lennox-Inglewood Tenants Union (LITU), and we have been working with tenants at IG ever since. One of our first experiences with Bryan’s utter disregard — not only for the people living in IG but even for the few legal requirements intended to protect tenants — came shortly after his father’s company purchased the building. Inglewood had been resisting instituting rent control for years. Finally, after years of public pressure and debate, it passed an ordinance which would go into effect in late October 2019.
Prior to the ordinance going into effect, Bryan — who certainly knew rent control was coming — served numerous tenants with a notice of rent increase which exceeded the level allowed under the new ordinance. This was clearly illegal, as Bryan’s increase was to begin on January 1, after the effective date of the rent control ordinance. When several tenants brought this to our attention, LITU helped them file complaints with the city’s Housing Protection Department, which forced Bryan to rescind the increases.
It wasn’t long before Bryan instituted a campaign to threaten and attempt to instill fear in those tenants who vowed to remain. In March of 2020, just prior to the COVID shutdown, LITU held a meeting with a number of tenants in the IG courtyard.
Although such meetings are protected by state statute, Bryan called the police on us. After discussion, the police left, with the tenants more committed than ever to their struggle. What we heard that day convinced LITU that we needed to be in this struggle for the long haul. Tenants complained of roach and rodent infestations, mold, broken fixtures and missing locks on front apartment doors, and periodic flooding from faulty pipes. And because of the heavy — almost 24/7 — construction going on in and outside the building, the tenants suffered from significant noise and dust pollution.
Although our efforts were somewhat hampered by COVID-19, LITU and the tenants undertook a campaign of letter writing, demonstrations and bringing these issues to the Inglewood City Council and city and county code-enforcement and health agencies. All to no avail. Although Bryan made some minor corrections, they were, as described by one tenant, “mickey mouse.”
After almost two years of LITU and the tenants doing all they could given the limitations imposed by the pandemic, and Bryan and the political system still refusing to provide the tenants with healthy and safe homes, we decided to undertake a campaign to do it ourselves.
Each tenant who we are working with first sent Bryan a letter listing all of the deficiencies in their apartments and stating that unless he made the listed repairs within 15 days of receiving the letters, they would undertake to make the repairs themselves and deduct from future rent payments any money spent for necessary supplies. In response, Bryan made only a few repairs to two of the apartments.
LITU and the tenants recently joined with NOlympics LA, a coalition opposed to the Olympics coming to LA in 2028 and concerned about the impact of gentrification, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics on Black and Latinx communities like Inglewood. We have now begun a campaign to get volunteers and donations of money and supplies necessary to fix the tenants’ apartments so that they meet all regulatory health and safety provisions.
The campaign is kicking off with a video, to be distributed far and wide, telling of the tenants’ struggle and commitment to win their fight. LITU’s website, at litunion.org, has been set up to accept names and contact information from volunteers. The site also includes instructions for financial donations, which will flow into a bank account set up specifically for that purpose, and a list of specific items which are needed for repairs. The site also provides a list of specific items which are needed. And we have been pleased that even before the formal launch of our campaign, many people who we have talked to about it have already volunteered and donated.
LITU members and tenants are committed to seeing this undertaking through to a positive outcome. We have all learned a lot through this struggle. The political and economic elite in this country are only interested in the welfare of its members, not the rest of us. Although not every Inglewood landlord may be as ruthless as Bryan Russo, many other tenants are suffering like those at IG. The City’s rent control ordinance allows landlords to raise rents as high as they want once a tenant moves out. LITU is hearing almost daily from tenants whose landlords are harassing them and refusing to make necessary repairs in the hope that they will self-evict. But the most important thing this struggle has shown us is that there is a tremendous number of caring, generous people around us who are willing to donate their time, money, and energy to help those in need. And, that people joining together to fight back can often win their struggles.