Will the City Buy Out Private Buildings to Protect Affordable Housing?

Councilmember Cedillo introduced a motion that would consider exercising eminent domain to protect tenants from a rent hike

Councilmember Gil Cedillo introduced a motion today asking city officials to make recommendations for how to acquire the Hillside Villa apartment complex in Chinatown using the process of eminent domain. Located at 636 N. Hill Place, the building has been the subject of a heated battle between tenants’ rights activists and the property’s owner, Tom Botz, who has indicated that he plans to raise tenants rents to market rate once the property’s affordable housing covenants expire in September.

Affordability covenants, which require landlords to charge below-market-rate rent for an agreed-upon period, are at the risk of expiring in thousands of buildings across Los Angeles. In his motion, Cedillo suggested that eminent domain, which allows the government to take over private property for public use following the payment of just compensation, could be used to acquire “other similarly situated housing developments” moving forward.

In the past, eminent domain has had a troubled track record in Los Angeles. In the ’50s, it was used to forcibly remove residents from the largely Latino neighborhood of Chavez Ravine to make way for Dodger Stadium. More recently, officials threatened to use it to clear out the remaining residents of Manchester Square to make room for LAX development.

But in May of 2019, members of the Hillside Villa tenants’ union proposed another use for the controversial law in an open letter to Cedillo: buying back residential units to assure they stay affordable.

“We do not want to have to worry about rents being raised to market-rate in 5 or 10 years,” wrote the tenants. “We do not think a heartless and unaccountable landlord like Thomas Botz should be profiting off of subsidized housing; and we strongly believe that working-class tenants of color like us deserve to stay in Chinatown, permanently.”

Now, months later, it seems the tenants are one step closer to seeing their idea come to fruition. In a post on Twitter, the Los Angeles Tenants Union celebrated the introduction of today’s motion: “This will prevent a mass eviction in September that would otherwise likely force dozens of families into homelessness. The fight is not over, but this is a huge victory.”

RELATED: Mike Bonin Is Urging the Owner of Wurstküche to Halt a Venice Eviction

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