L.A. City Council OKs Unprecedented Move to Buy Chinatown Apartment Building

After a three-year debate, the city has been directed to make an offer on a Chinatown building where the landlord had raised rents by up to 300 percent

The L.A. City Council has voted to make a bid to purchase a Chinatown building from its current owner after tenants raised concerns over rents for their apartments, which the owner had raised up to 300 percent.

While details were scarce as to the city’s plan to bid for the building, the Council on Tuesday directed the city to make an offer to the owner of Hillside Villa Apartments, Tom Botz, who has said that does not want to sell.

Until recently, rents at the building at 636 N. Hill Place–which was constructed in the 1980s as housing for mostly minority and immigrant families–had remained low or in line with the tenant salaries. But a few years ago, many of their rental agreement lapsed and Botz began to raise rents.

In a letter sent to the city, lawyers for the owner suggested that only 37 of the building’s 144 tenants would be impacted by the rent increases; they also suggested the city give those tenants Section 8 vouchers rather than moving ahead with a purchase of the entire building.

But tenants who are currently using Section 8 vouchers say they have also been impacted by the rent hikes and that an additional voucher handout from the city would not solve the problem at hand. Amid testimony on Tuesday, The Hillside Villa Tenants Association was blunt in its assessment of this claim, tweeting “‘Just get a voucher’ is landlord for ‘fuck you.'”

The city had previously considered claiming the building through eminent domain, a process the HSV Tenants Association has advocated for in the past. But as of now, that does not seem to be part of the city’s plan.

In advance of today’s meeting, the HSV Tenants Association directed its members and supporters to show up to the meeting today en mass wearing red as a symbol of solidarity. Those who could not attend Tuesday’s vote at City Hall were asked to place calls to their council members throughout the morning.

Soon after the decision was announced, the HSV Tenants Association tweeted a short but powerful message: “When we fight, we win.”

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