A Statement from the President of East LA Community Corporation:
Addressing Gentrification and the Boyle Heights Affordability Crisis
Los Angeles, August 27, 2015 – As we see the end of summer upon us, East LA Community Corporation (ELACC), an economic and social justice organization based here in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, moves in to Phase I of the Cielito Lindo Apartments, an affordable housing development.
Since 2005, ELACC has organized community residents against gentrifying forces driven by market speculation, and utilized a real estate strategy to fight these forces back. With a special focus in community planning and land use, ELACC implemented a community-led planning process and developed the Boyle Heights Plan del Pueblo.Today, the ongoing wave of gentrification that has decimated low income families and businesses in the northeast LA area has continued to apply new pressure on Boyle Heights.
ELACC’s community development model starts with the analysis that gentrification never benefits existing long term residents, and community control of land through the creation of permanently affordable housing protects families from speculative forces seeking to change the rich culture of our neighborhood. When ELACC opened its Sol y Luna Apartments, there were nearly 3,000 applicants for 50 units. The need is undeniable. With the ever-worsening affordability crisis, families are forced to make unfair choices about their future. Creating as much affordable housing as possible for very low income earners is one of our key strategies for preserving our neighborhood.
On July 3rd, ELACC’s proposal to the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee was selected for public funding for Cielito Lindo Apartments Phase I. Cielito Lindo Phase I will be a mixed used development on the northeast of the 1st and Soto intersection in Boyle Heights with 4,600 square feet of commercial/retail space and 50 units of housing for low-income families, which are defined by federal guidelines as households of one to seven people earning from $13,980 - $51,500. 10 of the existing units in Phase I are market rate and fall under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). However, rents in each unit can be increased without a limit once tenants move out. By replacing all of these units, ELACC will protect the affordability of rents through a 55-year affordability covenant, which can be extended at the time of its expiration. Regardless of fluctuations in the market, this covenant acts as a shield. This is how we fight gentrification.
Cielito Lindo Phase I is a part of the community vision to ensure affordable housing is plentiful to low income residents, many of whom are transit-dependent and are located near major Metro stations. This will be ELACC’s 5th project along the public transit corridor; with this project ELACC will provide a total of 226 homes for low-income families near transit.Unlike for-profit developers with the expressed intent to gentrify the neighborhood, community engagement has been at the core of our real estate development.
In any instance where ELACC must relocate existing tenants in order to develop new housing, we have taken great pride and care in ensuring that these community members have all the tools they need to maintain housing security, that they have absolute first right of refusal, and are financially supported during and after the relocation process. For Cielito Lindo Phase I and the proposed Cielito Lindo Phase II, we promised that we would communicate progress on the project and relocation information with tenants first before releasing any information to the public. Myself personally, as well as ELACC staff have met with tenants in Cielito Lindo Phase I starting in August 2013 and in the past 8 months have had 6 meetings with them as part of our ongoing engagement with tenants.
Tenant Rights are paramount to us. Current tenants are provided the Right of Return, Relocation Funds and Assistance.
We want all current tenants that qualify for affordable housing at the time the project is completed to return, for this reason, we provide a Right of Return option to tenants even though it is not a legal requirement to do so. We know that relocation can cause undue stress for tenants and we take this process very seriously. We also have offered extra services for one-on-ones and mock interviews to prepare for future applications. For the relocation process, Tenants are provided a 120 day notice and work with a 3rd party relocation consultant to ensure all Tenants’ rights to relocation are being honored. Tenants have the option to utilize the city’s Rent Stabilization program and receive $19,500 or the Uniform Relocation Act and receive an amount to subsidize their rent for 24 months . Based on the tenants who have met with the relocation consultant to date, those who utilize the URA could receive anywhere from $21,000 up to $54,000 in relocation funds depending on their family size and income. In either option, ELACC pays the relocation amount directly to the tenant in accordance to the options they choose to use.
ELACC is increasing the protected affordable housing in Boyle Heights.
In Cielito Lindo Phase I, ELACC will provide 50 units of affordable housing protected by affordability covenants. Currently there are 5 buildings with 15 units.. There is also 200 sq-ft of commercial space that housed a restaurant that closed in July 2014. Out of the 15units 10 are currently protected with the City of Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Program. 5 units were already part of ELACC’s affordable housing portfolio and will continue to be part of the affordable housing program. With the new construction, all families will have the opportunity to return if they meet the income guidelines for affordable housing. Most of the families currently living in the properties fall within the income range; however the families that are over income will not qualify for the affordable housing units in Cielito Lindo Phase I.
ELACC’s future plans to provide more housing for low income families.
Everyday families walk through ELACC’s door seeking affordable housing, only to learn that our waiting lists are so full their bursting at the seams. Excessively long waitlist are seen all across the region, and in different types of affordable housing programs. Public housing is one of the worst with over 38,813 people on their wait list. At any given time, ELACC has affordable housing developments in different stages of the development process - from a simple vision to families getting ready to move in. ELACC builds affordable housing throughout Los Angeles’ Greater Eastside including unincorporated East LA. Boyle Heights, being our place of birth and the focus of our mission, is a key neighborhood, but its proximity to downtown and metro rail makes it particularly vulnerable, to date, ELACC has the following affordable housing developments within a 500 foot radius of the 1st and Soto intersection.
Additional information on ELACC’s programs and projects can be found online at www.elacc.org.
Above all else, transparency is paramount to our organization, and our doors are always open. We want to encourage tenants and residents to exercise their rights and to know that we are willing to dialogue, vision, and support community residents to the best of our ability. As an economic and social justice organization, ELACC provides community based services designed to enable Latino residents of Boyle Heights and its adjacent areas to build brighter financial futures, address gentrification, and create more opportunity within their neighborhoods.
Isela C. Gracian