Fed up with rodents, broken elevators, and unsafe conditions, tenants at AHF's Healthy Housing Foundation program are demanding better.
Mariah Darling, a resident at Healthy Housing Foundation’s Pride Hotel, was previously unhoused, bouncing in and out of shelters before she found a room she could afford. “I moved to the Pride Hotel in hopes of improving my situation,” says Darling. “I was excited to have my own place, be independent, and get myself together. Coming from a shelter, anxiety was high. I thought it would be more peaceful, but it wasn’t like that.”
Like other Healthy Housing Foundation facility tenants, Darling described a variety of problems: water and electricity shut offs, dirty tap water, a lack of assistance for mentally ill residents, and a lack of adequate security to prevent and address violence and harassment. When incidents occur at the property, Darling says management and police don’t respond. “People don’t feel safe,” says Darling. “I’ve been threatened, sexually harassed, I don’t feel safe whatsoever.” On July 17, tenants of HHF facilities held a rally to protest the conditions at their complexes and demand improvements from their landlord.
In May, the Healthy Housing Foundation, a subsidiary of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, issued a “$100 Million Homelessness Challenge” to the city via a full-page ad in the LA Times. In the ad, they pledge $100 million for new affordable housing in exchange for the city waiving taxes and fees, and cutting through the red tape that often holds up new developments. “We are trying to help. Please meet us halfway,” the ad reads.
While AHF is attempting to expand its affordable housing holdings, tenants of buildings operated by Healthy Housing want to see that money invested in the buildings they already own. Tenants allege the buildings are “unliveable,” citing numerous problems with building maintenance and safety at the 10 sites operated by the foundation.
Tenants of Healthy Housing Facilities, as well as concerned advocates, under the banner “Stand for Housing Justice,” issued a statement to AHF:
“As a community, we issue our own challenge to AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Michael Weinstein. Invest $100 million dollars into the properties you own right now. Take care of your tenants and staff and stop using poor people of color to push your self-interest. Tenants and the Unhoused are not political props and they deserve dignity, respect, and a clean and safe place to live.”
Along with the challenge, the group issued a list of demands, focused on maintenance, health, and safety concerns. The organizers stated that “a Housing First model that cannot provide reliable electricity, plumbing, hot water, clean common areas and bathrooms, safety for tenants and staff and disregards the role of on-site supportive services is a liability” to the city.
While Healthy Housing’s buildings offer an affordable option for over a thousand people, the units are not free. Rooms in The Madison Hotel rent for $400, while rooms at the Pride Hotel range from $550 to $750, according to Healthy Housing Foundation’s online listings.
In a statement from AHF, a spokesperson says:
“AHF has spent over $100 million in the last three years to purchase and rehabilitate 1,023 low-income units. We have taken empty, dilapidated buildings and turned them into basic dignified housing. We follow a ‘housing first’ model, which places emphasis on putting a roof over people’s heads and giving them a door that locks at a rent they can afford — at as little as $400 a month. At $100,000 a unit, that is one-sixth the cost that the city spends to create an ‘affordable’ housing unit — and we do it in a fraction of the time.”
AHF also emphasizes that they do not offer social services directly to tenants, instead referring them to third-party services with more expertise and funding. The spokesperson did not respond directly to claims about conditions in the building or tenants’ safety concerns.
“What’s the point of housing someone if you’re not going to create a structure that gets them housed, keeps them stable, and prevents them from going down the same path?” asks Darling.
The Pride Hotel was acquired by Healthy Housing earlier this year, but the problems Darling described are not unique to the building. A tenant at the Madison Hotel, another Healthy Housing building, described a similar experience to Darling’s. “Allowance of tenant abuse, in-house hostility, bed bugs, roaches, asbestos, power outages, broken elevators, complaints and grievances not being properly addressed, mold, mildew,” the tenant lists.
Records from the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA), which processes tenant complaints, show a number of violations at the Madison Hotel in the past year, including issues with improperly functioning fire doors, problems with heating and appliances, and plumbing issues. HCIDLA records show that Healthy Housing has addressed these formal violations — but without the power of the city behind those complaints, tenants say they often go unanswered.
“We need new management for the tenants,” says Ernest Cornish, a longtime AHF tenant currently living at the King Edward Hotel. “We need them to take a complaint form and actually do something with it instead of filing it away. We need security that actually protects our building.”
HCIDLA records confirm that tenants have also made a number of complaints at the King Edward, including issues related to plumbing, insulation, lighting, and issues with rodents or insect infestations.
When asked about the changes tenants would like to see, the answer was straightforward: provide the resources needed to make the properties a safe, comfortable home for residents. “If they’re going to get more funding, they should put it in the properties that are already established,” says Darling. “There’s so much that needs to be done.”
Residents are especially frustrated at what they view as hypocrisy of AHF, an organization that ostensibly advocates for tenants’ rights and seeks to expand its affordable housing portfolio. “It’s basically all of the inhumane practices that a large number are going through. It’s a pattern that has formed among the landlords,” says a resident of the Madison Hotel, who chose to remain anonymous. “AHF has only owned the Madison [Hotel] for a little over two years. But they’re doing the same things as the previous owners.”