On the edge of SoFi stadium, tenants organize to fight displacement.
Broken pipes. Flooded floors. Mounds of mold. So many ants and spiders.
Dolores Hernandez listed off the issues she has encountered in her apartment over the past few months. It was Saturday, June 27, and she was addressing a crowd of around 70 local tenants and allies at a rally organized by the Lennox-Inglewood Tenants Union (LITU). She explained how her landlord had repeatedly ignored or dismissed her requests for repairs to her unit. Instead, he had renovated empty units and the building’s exterior facades to attract new tenants. “But I don’t live outside,” she stated simply. “I live inside. And that’s where I need the repairs.”
Hernandez has lived in the 50-unit apartment block at 919 S. Prairie Ave for ten years. It’s right across the street from Inglewood’s soon-to-be-opened SoFi Stadium. Rents in the area have been rocketing upwards in recent years as landlords and real estate developers seek to profit by remaking the neighborhood for higher-income tenants. Hernandez and her neighbors fear they will be pushed out, but they are determined to fight for their homes.
LITU views Hernandez’s experience as part of a pattern across the city of Inglewood and the neighboring unincorporated community of Lennox: a deliberate project of displacement and gentrification. In Inglewood approximately 42% of residents identify as Black and 50% as Latinx, while around 93% of Lennox residents identify as Latinx. Median incomes in both areas fall significantly below the median income of Los Angeles. Residents of the two areas formed LITU to organize anyone who “is not in full control of their living situation.” This includes “people who live in hotels, mobile homes, houseless individuals and rooming houses” in addition to other renters.
In March, tenants at 919 S. Prairie invited LITU organizers to a meeting in their communal courtyard. They wanted to discuss their deteriorating living conditions and their concern that neglect was their landlord’s tactic to pressure long-term tenants to leave. Eight officers from the Inglewood Police Department interrupted the meeting. They had been called by the landlord’s son, Bryan Russo. According to a flyer published by LITU, “Bryan claimed the guests were trespassers and threatened tenants with eviction if they assembled again.”
Tenants have a legal right to organize, but LITU members say Russo has successfully intimidated some residents into leaving or accepting higher rent rates.
Russo appeared on the scene in late 2019, after the building was bought by Insta Properties #1 and Hilgard Capital LLC. The property listing, which is still available on various websites, touts its “excellent location poised for rapid appreciation” and a “potential upside in rents,” encouraging prospective buyers to jack up costs for tenants. The connection to the stadium and the planned entertainment complex across the street is explicit: “The massive redevelopment project, which includes a $4.9 Billion NFL stadium, 620,000 square feet of retail space, a 300-room luxury hotel, 2,500 housing units, and a revamped casino, has caused a flurry of real estate activity in the surrounding area, with property values already benefiting from the construction of what will be the world’s most expensive sports complex.”
Addressing the rally on Saturday, LITU organizer Alexis Aceves said “the big capitalists saw Inglewood, and they saw money signs.” She pointed up at a large “NOW LEASING” banner hanging from the 919 S. Prairie building. “It was always the plan to get long-time tenants out, Black and brown, poor and low-income tenants out, and get a different demographic with a different income bracket in here.” Landlords, the police, city agencies, and elected officials have coalesced “on the same side, against the tenants,” she explained.
The (limited) eviction protections Inglewood put in place following the onset of Covid-19 are currently set to expire on June 30. While Covid-19 has intensified the challenges facing tenants, LITU organizer Ocean Ker emphasized that the problem goes beyond the pandemic. “It’s not like Covid happened and we couldn’t pay our rent. We couldn’t pay our rent before.” Systemic injustice, he reasoned, requires the construction of entirely new structures, not band-aid reforms. “We need to chop down that tree and pull it out by the roots,” he said.
Up against powerful forces and with ambitious goals, LITU leaders stressed the importance of tenants coming together to organize and build power. Organizer Julia Wallace connected their rally to larger movements: “Housing is a human right. And all the protests that have been happening against police brutality — that is also connected to the fight to defend ourselves as working class people, to defend our rights to live, to defend our rights to breathe, to defend our rights to have housing and healthcare.”
Indeed, the LA Times reported that 2018 tax revenue from the 300-acre stadium construction site was used to “hire more police officers and replace the aging fleet of cop cars,” as well as for the vague purpose of “restor[ing] services.”
Reflecting on growing momentum in struggles for justice and against racial capitalism, Inglewood organizer Tiffany Wallace articulated what is at stake: “This is a time when we really have so much power, and can take the power not just to help people living here [at 919 S. Prairie], which is a basic thing, but also so that we have a society where we control our own destiny.”
The fight for tenants to control their destiny, or to assert their right to the city, is a struggle shared and fought around the globe. It is a particularly difficult struggle in Olympic cities (or regions) like Los Angeles. That’s because local and global elites have a ready-made justification and deadline for remaking the urban landscape to impress wealthy tourists and the global media (and ultimately to attract capital investment). The situation facing buildings like 919 S. Prairie is eerily reminiscent of the pressures faced by the Vila Autódromo favela on the edge of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Park. Ahead of Rio 2016, Vila Autódromo residents’ tenacious battle against displacement became a symbol of resistance — a small community standing up to the full force of municipal, federal, and global corporate and political powers.
Today, in Inglewood and Lennox, LITU organizers grasp the collective power of the forces they’re taking on. And they’re ready for a fight.
Get in touch with the Lennox-Inglewood Tenants Union to learn how to join its struggle against stadium-driven displacement and gentrification, and follow the union on Facebook.