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Baldwin Hills Tenants Fighting Boston University to Keep Their Homes

Tenants demand Boston University allow community control over the homes, rather than sell them to developers who would evict the community.

Over a dozen Crenshaw tenants protest outside their homes, which were willed to Boston University. A man holds a microphone up to one tenant who is sitting on a chair.
Baldwin Hills tenants hold a press conference to protect their homes (Photo: Sarah Michelson).

Dozens of Black and Latine tenants held a press conference on December 26 outside their homes on Corbett Street in Baldwin Hills, demanding that Boston University protect their housing by accepting a community land trust’s offer to purchase the buildings.

When property owner Frederick Pardee died earlier this year, he left the four buildings — home to over 100 people — to his alma mater, Boston University. Now the university is in talks to sell the property to a developer, who is likely to evict the residents of this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in order to construct a newer, denser building.

“If I leave here, my rent doubles,” said Kimberly Roberson, a 25-year resident of one of the buildings. “And that changes everything about my future.”

Roberson said her neighbors supported her as she raised her two children, and she wants that stability as she ages.

“We help each other,” said ten-year resident Irma Galvez, who is the primary caretaker for her elderly mother. “It’s a community.” Every Saturday, residents Cecilia and Alejandro Rincón volunteer with FoodCycle to deliver free groceries to their neighbors.

Boston University received the property for free and has received an offer from the Liberty Community Land Trust, a Black-led organization working to develop a democratic economy and preserve affordable housing.

Residents have asked supporters to pressure BU to accept the offer, rather than sell the property to for-profit developers. But BU has already accepted an offer from a developer for one of the three buildings, and residents believe the other three could be sold as soon as this week. Representatives of BU did not respond to Knock LA’s requests for comment.

Twenty years ago José Lopez and his father were evicted from their home in nearby Westchester for an airport expansion project. Now he is fighting to stay in his apartment on Corbett Street, a half mile from the Jefferson/La Cienega station of the recently-expanded Metro line. Lopez said working-class Angelenos across the city face “serial displacement” from city development projects and luxury housing that raises area rents, forcing people out of their communities.

“We built this city,” he said. “We have a right to stay.”

Los Angeles should follow San Francisco and Washington, DC, Lopez said, in passing a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. It would offer tenants the first opportunity to collectively purchase their buildings, through organizations like community land trusts, when the properties go up for sale.

If BU accepts the land trust’s offer on the apartments, it could prevent the homes from being demolished to create luxury housing like the 31-story Cumulus Apartments just a half mile away. Built by a company that admitted to bribing former Councilmember José Huizar, those apartments sit atop a new Whole Foods, a sign of the recent changes in the neighborhood.

But residents are prepared to struggle to keep their homes.

José Lopez’s 94-year-old father Jorge gestured to the grassy lawn where children play and the community celebrates birthdays and holidays, and said, “If we don’t fight, this will all be condos.”

José and Jorge Lopez pay $1250 a month for their two-bedroom apartment. At Cumulus, two-bedroom apartments start at over $6000.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the apartments were in the Crenshaw neighborhood. They are in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood, close to the border with Culver City.