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LA Tenants Union Puts Repealing The Ellis Act On The Table

They’ve gotten commitments from Senator Maria Elena Durazo and Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo — but from the latter only in private.

“The Ellis Act is a racist act,” they chanted. In the final action of their week-long Days of Rage, on Monday afternoon dozens of members of the Vermont y Beverly (VyBe) Local of the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) led a demonstration calling on their state representatives to repeal the Ellis Act.

The prime target of this protest was California State Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo — but it wasn’t intended to be that way. VyBe had previously held an hour-long meeting with Carrillo in which tenants from six different buildings being evicted by the Ellis Act shared their stories. By the end of the meeting, according to VyBe members, Carillo said she would do all she could to repeal the law in the upcoming legislative cycle.

On Monday, however, Carrillo’s office refused to give a statement of support to the group of protesters that showed up outside the office on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, even though members of the Tenants Union had contacted her office ahead of time requesting one.

“One of Carrillo’s staff members told a LATU member today that Carrillo stands with tenants, but wouldn’t say she supports the repeal of the Ellis Act,” Trinidad Ruiz, an organizer with VyBe, told me.

“Enough of these politicians that say one thing in private, but then go silent when it’s time to take on developers publicly,” Ruiz said as he addressed the crowd once it was clear that Carrillo’s office was not making a public statement.

I followed up with Carrillo’s office and they refused to comment on the situation.

The office of California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, on the other hand, did state publicly that she supports repealing the Ellis Act. Her district director Steve Veres quickly addressed the group of demonstrators to confirm this fact.

Protesters carried a fake coffin with “Muerte A Ellis” (“Death to Ellis”) written on it.

To my knowledge, she is the first State Senator to go on record supporting the repeal of the Ellis Act.

Also named was Democratic Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, whose office in Downtown LA has previously been the site of a VyBe-led protest on this issue. After months of protesting and pressuring, VyBe had a meeting with Santiago scheduled for last Friday — but his office cancelled at the last minute.

A Racist Law

The Ellis Act is a statewide law passed in 1985 that has become the primary tool for landlords to evict tenants from rent-controlled units. Since 2001, this law has been responsible for taking over 26,000 rent-controlled homes off the market in Los Angeles.

The LA Tenants Union is claiming the Ellis Act is racist because entire communities of color, mostly Black and Latinx, are being uprooted by this law.

Take the case of Venice, where there’s a sizable Latinx population comprised mostly of tenants living in rent-controlled apartments. In the zip code where Patricia Sanchez was Ellis’d by sausage bros Tyler Wilson and Joseph Pitruzzelli, the number of Latinx residents declined by over 2,000 people from 2000–2017, going from 25% to 19% of the population.

The Latinx population has similarly declined by thousands (or even tens of thousands) in neighborhoods densely populated with rent-controlled apartments like Echo Park, Hollywood, and Koreatown. You can see how concentrated Ellis evictions are in these neighborhoods with this helpful map by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project.

“This protest is a reminder that Ellis is being used to gentrify communities of color like Echo Park, Boyle Heights, Highland Park and El Sereno,” said Ruiz. “They need to do all they can to repeal this devastating, racist law.”

The Grip of Real Estate

So if the Ellis Act has been uprooting thousands of families every year for the past few decades, why haven’t our state representatives repealed it? After all, we do live in a state dominated by Democrats — aren’t they supposed to be on our side?

Follow the money!

The real estate industry is extremely powerful at all levels of government in California, and so the idea of repealing developers’ favorite law has been a non-starter since the Ellis Act was passed.

Carrillo and Santiago each take their fair share of real estate money — it makes sense they’re not jumping at the chance to butt heads with the most powerful players in California politics.

Carrillo has a background as a labor activist and an independent journalist, but in her 2018 campaign the California Association of Realtors maxed-out to Carrillo’s campaign. All told she took $26,400 from the real estate industry.

Miguel Santiago appears to be even more of the pocket of real estate — in 2018 he too got hefty donations from the realtors, and also from the California Apartment Association. In total, he received over $52,000 from the real estate industry, and a whopping $133,400 from the broader “Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate” sector.

It’ll certainly be an uphill battle for the LA Tenants Union — an all volunteer organization that doesn’t have large sums of money — to change the minds of these politicians. But with Ellis ripping apart entire neighborhoods, the VyBe Local feels they have no choice but to try.