A surprise eviction notice changed the lives of Juan Vera, his wife Maria and their three children forever. A representative of the apartment complex in Downey, where they had lived for more than 20 years, handed Maria an envelope.
Maria doesn’t understand English, so Camila, her 14-year-old daughter, read it to her.
“Did you see what they gave us?” she asked. “And now, what are we going to do? Where are we going to go?”
On that day in August, Maria’s husband Juan was working at his job as a parking lot attendant. Upon arriving home and hearing the news, he said, he turned pale. He had 60 days to leave their one-bedroom home for five people.
Juan Vera said that his blood pressure rose, and his face and right leg became numb. Juan ended up in the hospital for nine days. He had suffered a stroke. After he was discharged from the hospital, he was referred for further studies at LA County-USC General Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the brain, almost five centimeters long. He will have surgery to remove it, and then undergo chemotherapy.
“God willing, everything will be fine. I have faith that I will be cured,” he said, while sitting in an armchair in the small hall of his home. “I want to survive, for my wife and my children.”
The Vera family is one of several dozen tenants who recently received eviction notices in the Eden Roc apartment complex, located at 10237 Western Ave.
Ruby Baatar, director of property management at Winstar Properties Inc., the company in charge of the Eden Roc apartments, did not respond to requests for an interview.
Tenant advocates say that evictions and rent hikes have increased statewide, apparently in an effort by landlords to skirt a new state law. No data, however, is available to confirm that.
The Veras’ eviction notice arrived on Aug. 27, just 15 days before the California Legislature passed the rent hike bill AB1482. Beginning Jan. 1, the new state law will limit rent increases to 5% each year plus inflation, up to a maximum of 10% per year, and prohibit landlords from evicting tenants without “just cause.”
Many cities, including Los Angeles, have adopted emergency ordinances in an effort to prevent increased evictions in the interim. Downey is not one of them. In November, Downey City Council members Claudia Frometa, Alex Saab, and Blanca Pacheco voted against an anti-eviction measure. The only vote in favor came from Council Member Sean Ashton. (Mayor Rick Rodriguez did not vote because he is a Downey real estate owner.)
Pacheco, an attorney, was asked what she will do to protect her constituents in Downey.
“My heart is with the families of Eden Roc,” she replied in an email. “My recommendation for tenants who are facing an eviction is to seek legal advice.”
Pacheco said there are several law firms that represent tenants either free of charge or for a nominal fee, and that “there are currently laws that protect tenants and a lawyer is better equipped to provide legal assistance. In addition, the city of Downey has conducted numerous workshops about resources for tenants.”
“We organize and fight”
Although the Veras’ October eviction date has passed, the family continues to pay their monthly rent.Of the 110 apartments in the property, at least 45 are empty; those tenants already left. Some were offered between $3,000-$11,000 to leave. Another 40, including the Vera family, decided to stay and fight because they have no alternative for affordable housing.
“It’s very complicated to live like this,” said Maria Vera. “The money is not enough and the rent has increased a lot.”
Two decades ago, she said they paid $450 per month for their one-bedroom apartment. Earlier this year, they were paying $840. Now the new owners increased the rent to $1,167.50 per month.
Evictions during the holiday season are disturbing for Catherine Álvarez, a Colombian woman who is married with two children and lives in the apartment complex at Eden Roc.
“They increased the rent for my two-bedroom apartment by $360. Now I pay $1,550,” she said. “But we organize and fight, and we are still here.”
Alvarez, who is the leader of the tenant association of Eden Roc Apartments, said she received has several death threats and intimidating calls since she started organizing the renters to defend themselves.
In solidarity with her neighbors, Alvarez has requested help for the Vera family and has set up an account with GoFundMe.
René Christian Moya, director of an advocacy group called Housing Is a Human Right, said that the evictions in Los Angeles represent “a humanitarian crisis” that is affecting many families of all races, although its impact is stronger among Latinos and African Americans. “
“There is a social housing crisis in Los Angeles and other cities. It is also a crisis of injustice,” said Moya. “The problem is that the law favors property owners when they evict tenants, and we don’t have the financial resources to fight them.”
At least 2.4 million of 4 million residents of Los Ángeles are renters and that they allocate an average of 52% of their income for paying rent, Moya said.
Regulations “increase our housing problems”
Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Apartments Association (AAGLA), a group that represents rental property owners.When asked whether these eviction notices throughout California constitute a “humanitarian crisis,” Yukelson answered: “We have been experiencing an affordability crisis in Los Ángeles and Southern California, but there has been no evidence of mass evictions.”
“The affordability crisis is due, in large part, to housing shortages,” he said. “Building here in California is expensive and takes a long time due to the process of assigning rights, to the well-organized neighborhood NIMBY [not in my backyard] groups that are opposed to the projects, the high cost of the land and the impact of the California Environmental Quality Act.”
He added that housing regulations “simply increase our housing problems by causing the owners of rental apartments to leave the business and turn their units into condominiums or other uses.”
He stressed that the state has the worst housing shortage nationally. “There is a reason for that. No developer wants to spend millions of dollars in capital and take great risks in a highly regulated company, and most owners want to get out instead of dealing with so much punitive regulation.”
Yukelson said there are “much better” solutions than rent control. These solutions include providing appropriate incentives for developers to build more homes, particularly accessible ones. “The incentives would be in the form of a fast-track rights process, approval of increased density, less stringent parking requirements, reduced fees and increased tax incentives, among others,” he said.
“We need more housing, not discouraging regulations,” he concluded. “We need to use the carrot instead of the stick to solve our housing problem.”
“Unscrupulous and greedy”
Every day of the year, thousands of Californians sleep on the streets with no shelter, and thousands more are one rent increase from being evicted and swelling the ranks of the homeless.
According to data from the Public Policy Institute of California, a 2018 count revealed that about 130,000 Californians were homeless, almost a quarter of the national total. California’s homelessness rate was 33 per 10,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the country.
“That is unacceptable. We must do more to keep families in their homes and build more homes to address our shortage.” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco, who introduced AB1482.
Chiu said he thinks that many of the evictions are a response to the new law.
“The conclusion is that [property] owners are making a choice, a cruel choice, to evict their tenants,” he said. “The limits established under AB 1482 gives them enough space to continue making profits. However, they have chosen to be irresponsible, unscrupulous and greedy. But the law did not force them to be greedy. They were always greedy, and now they are showing their true colors.”
He acknowledged that he knew it was possible that landlords would evict people before the new law became effective.
“We knew it was possible, but we felt that the limit set by AB 1482 was high enough so that the owners did not feel the need to participate in this predatory behavior,” he said. “This predatory behavior and shameless evictions have been going on in the dark for decades. This is exactly why we created this bill, and on Jan. 1, eight million tenants will no longer be exploited in this way.”
Jorge Luis Macías in a journalist working for La Opinión. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.