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In Boyle Heights, Residents Fight Off Another Unfair Eviction

The Ellis Act strikes the neighborhood again, as more low income tenants are put at risk.

Teresa Alfaro and her family (image: Justin Gaar)

Outside of a side-by-side duplex in Boyle Heights, a group of tenants, neighbors and supporters gathered Sunday for a sort of block party. Music was played, films were shown, food was served, and candles were lit. Underneath the festive atmosphere though was a current of mourning, not for anyone lost but for a neighborhood slipping out of the hands of those who have lived in it for decades. Next to a mural painted by local children on the side of the building, were signs saying “decommodify housing” and “occupy, expropriate.” This wasn’t an everyday block party; it was a vigil for the displaced.

While this event was specifically supporting the residents of the duplex from which one of them will likely be evicted within the week, those gathered included those who are themselves facing eviction or who have fought massive rent increases or landlord harassment in the past and won. The tenants in this case, Martina Gallegos and Teresa Alfaro and their families are being supported by Union de Vecinos, the eastside local of the LA Tenants Union, who turned out in force both with organizers, and other tenants who like most Angelenos live with the precarity of their housing situation looming over their lives. The tenants’ legal battle against their landlord is being waged by attorneys from the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action. While the presiding judge has issued a temporary stay of eviction, delaying the eviction that had been scheduled for today, the legal prognosis for the tenants still looks dire.

What is being contested is an an owner occupation eviction being perpetrated by landlord Luis Martinez. The Los Angeles rent stabilization ordinance allows a landlord to evict tenants under a very narrow set of circumstances, one of which is owner occupation. These have even fewer restrictions than Ellis Act evictions. This provision is intended to allow private homeowners to reoccupy their homes. That does not seem to be what is happening in this case.

Martinez a local designer, whose work has been funded LA County Homeless Initiative Award, acquired the property in 2017 and now claims he intends to occupy it. The legal case has been a struggle as the tenants essentially need to prove he has no intention of doing so which is difficult. There is deserved skepticism from the tenants and their supporters in this case though for two reasons: this is not the first method Martinez has used to attempt to displace these tenants, and he is currently building a large residential structure on the property where he resides.

(Image: Justin Gaar)

The struggle of these tenants fits into a larger pattern of the destruction of affordable housing in the Boyle Heights area. This takes the forms of these evictions as well as Ellis Act evictions, the long term destruction and privatization of public housing in the area, and massive rent increases on unprotected units. In all of these cases there are the common threads of tenant harassment and the rich getting richer. The Ellis Act needs to be reformed or repealed to ensure that abuses of it are curtailed.

Still urgent though is the plight of Martina and Teresa, who face imminent removal from their homes. Teresa’s husband recently suffered a stroke which has made it difficult for him to move. She spoke to those gathered on Sunday, saying, “I’m worried about losing my housing, but I’m here to fight back, day by day, and make sure we win.” This steadfastness is bolstered by the solidarity of those in attendance. “I feel stronger knowing there’s a lot of community support,” she added as chants of “si se puede” rang through the alley. This fight is not over, despite the difficulty the tenants have had in the court. This is not a group of tenants for whom giving up is in the playbook.

Story was updated to better reflect the legal nature of the eviction proceedings.