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Eminent Domain for the People! A Statement from the Hillside Villa Tenants Association

Budget and Finance Committee head Paul Krekorian and the rest of Los Angeles City Council must act now through eminent domain to keep the families of Hillside Villa Apartments in their homes.

Photo of Hillside Villa Tenants Association Hosting an Action for Eminent Domain. (Photo by Bryan Sih.)
Hillside Villa tenants come together to encourage City Council to acquire Hillside Villa Apartments via eminent domain. (Photo by Bryan Sih)

With COVID-19 eviction protections always precariously on the brink of expiration, along with the eviction tsunami that’s sure to occur as a result, the time is now for the City to take our home, the Hillside Villa Apartments, from slumlord Tom Botz. 

We, the Hillside Villa Tenants Association, are a collective of Latinx, Asian, and African-American poor and working class tenants. We have been fighting to stay in our homes for more than three years after our 30-year affordable housing covenant expired in 2018, and Botz immediately increased our rent by over 200%. We are first-generation immigrants and refugees, disabled elders, and families who have called this building and Los Angeles Chinatown our homes for decades.

On September 13, 2021, the LA City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee heard a motion to authorize a $46 million dollar loan from the City’s reserve fund to initiate the purchase of Hillside Villa from Botz. Authorizing this loan and using eminent domain to purchase our building is the most cost-efficient and effective way for the city to keep our housing affordable. 

Allies and supporters submitted 420 written public comments, and all verbal comments during the meeting were in support of passing the motion. Yet the Budget and Finance Committee, led by Councilmember Paul Krekorian, decided to delay voting. They requested a report from the Los Angeles Housing Department that was supposed to be completed within 30 days. 

Three months passed, and our anxieties about whether we would be able to stay in our homes grew. We tried multiple times to schedule a meeting with Krekorian after the City failed to complete the report within 30 days. We called, then we emailed, and finally we showed up to Krekorian’s house. Only then did Krekorian’s staff finally agree to meet with us.

During our meeting with Krekorian’s office in December, we were shocked, infuriated, and disgusted by the demeaning words from his staff. Matt Hale, Krekorian’s deputy chief of staff, said he pushed back on authorizing the loan because, in his words, “I have to protect the taxpayers’ interests.” 

Are we not taxpayers who have the public’s interest in mind? Is stopping the mass eviction of 100+ families during a city-wide housing crisis not in the interest of this city?

Are we not important people, too?

As low-income and working class folks, we’ve contributed more to this city than wealthy landlords and developers ever have, with their loopholes and subsidies that allow them to pocket millions of taxpayer dollars. 

Politicians like Krekorian are eager to treat us like people and pay lip service when they’re trying to get our vote. Yet, the moment we hold elected officials accountable to using public dollars to benefit us instead of just profiting off of us, they dismiss our interests and disrespect us as people. 

On the other hand, wealthy developers and landlords, members of the Olympic Committee, and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers are always treated by politicians with respect. Officials give their organizations billions of dollars in public funding despite the insurmountable harm they have caused working class communities of color such as our own. 

Shortly after our December meeting with Krekorian’s team, we were heartbroken to learn 14-year-old Valentina Orellana Peralta and 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez, two Latinx constituents from Krekorian’s district, were murdered by LAPD Officer William Dorsey Jones Jr. Yet the city council continues to approve annual budgets of over $3 billion in public funds for a police department that kills LA residents, while they drag their feet on a $46 million loan that would allow 124 working class families to stay in their homes and keep their rent permanently affordable. 

We’re tired of our elected officials treating us like our lives are less important than maintaining the city’s murderous police force and supporting gentrification projects, such as SoFi stadium and the Dodger Stadium gondola, that only serve the elite. 

During the pandemic, many of us have lost our jobs as well as loved ones, including beloved members of our Tenants Association. Some of us have gotten sick with COVID-19 during the recent Omicron surge, adding additional stress to the constant worry we’ll lose our homes. It’s now been more than seven months since the Budget and Finance Committee meeting in September, and we can’t wait any longer. 

We call on hypocritical politicians like Krekorian, who sit comfortably in million-dollar homes bought with salaries funded by the public, to actually serve the public. We demand the City of Los Angeles stop subsidizing wealthy developers and landlords, cancel the Olympics, defund the LAPD, and use eminent domain for genuine public interest. They can start by voting YES to approve the loan to expropriate Hillside Villa. 

Eminent domain for the people! The time for eminent domain is now!