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Los Angeles Wave

Thursday May 21, 2015

Tenants Protest Termination of Leases at Crenshaw Complex

By Debra Varnado, Contributing Editor
 

Catherine Green, second from left, and Leilani Sashae, with raised fist, are among the tenants at the Blvd. Apartments on Crenshaw Boulevard who are having their leases terminated by new owners. The tenants are staging protests in front of the complex every Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Fifth Avenue Times) /

LOS ANGELES — A months-long tenant-landlord dispute at the Blvd. Villa apartment complex on Crenshaw Boulevard near Venice Boulevard has spilled out onto the streets and sidewalks, raising questions about fairness, corporate greed, affordable housing and the ability of business owners to make a profit in Los Angeles.

In January Villa's new owner, Lafayette Square Apts., began notifying the complex's 44 tenants that their leases were being terminated. Since then, the tenants have pressed Lafayette to pay their relocation fees and to allow them to stay in their units beyond mid-June, the deadline for them to vacate the premises.

Lafayette has remained silent on both demands, but according to the newly formed residents and tenants action coalition (RTAC), the company is seeking to raise rents by removing the property from the Federal Section 8 housing program for very low-income individuals and families.

The residents and tenants staged their most recent protest May 16 in front of the building in an effort to win support for their quest to keep their affordable apartments.

Catherine O. Green, a tenant of 31 years, said she believes the landlord wants to charge $1,700 monthly for her two-bedroom apartment.

"I pay $668 of $1,200. Section 8 pays the rest," Green said.

Catherine Green, 89, is one of the tenants at the Blvd. Apartments on Crenshaw Boulevard who has had her lease terminated by new owners of the property. Green has lived in the complex since it opened in 1984. (Photo courtesy of Fifth Avenue Times)/

"This has made me very nervous," she added. "I have lived here since 1984 when the building opened and expected to live here for the rest of my life. I'm turning 90 in August, live alone and am not in good health. I can't move by June 13 and I don't have the first and last month's rent, the security deposit and moving and storage fees."

Green lives on a fixed income and qualified for the Section 8 voucher program after her husband died 10 years ago. Her son, a veteran, died more recently.

Leilanie Sashae, the leader of the residents and tenants coalition and a three-year resident of the complex, said, "this situation is devastating. Green and other tenants may become homeless. … I have fought to prevent homelessness and helped people get placed in housing."

Formerly homeless herself, Sashae lived on Skid Row and in transitional housing for more than 10 years. She conceded that Lafayette had legally terminated their leases, but questioned the fairness to the tenants —the elderly, disabled, veterans, students, single mothers and mostly African-American families.

"We were notified that the building had a new owner and a week later, we started to get termination notices," Sashae said. "The new owners never introduced themselves."

Angela Adams, assistant director of Los Angeles' Section 8 program, said the chances are better for the elderly and disabled to find new housing.

"It may not be what they want, but we tend to see more housing for them," she said.

But that wasn't good enough for Sashae.

"We want at least 1 ½ years to transition into new housing and a relocation fee of $12,000," Sashae said. "If we were under rent control, we could receive up to $20,000 to move, depending on the circumstances. But the [rent control] law doesn't cover buildings completed after 1978."

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, said without rent control — which prevents landlords from gouging their tenants — there is no relocation benefits for displaced tenants.

"But tenants should get relocation benefits, if the owners have any decency or degree of morality," Gross said. "It's the right thing to do. Well, the right thing to do would be to not evict them.

"Clearly, landlords are trying to get tenants out. There is no balance here. It's greed versus people's lives … and the problem is massive in L.A," Gross said.

Jim Clarke, executive vice president of the Apartment Association of Greater L.A., said the Section 8 program was a "win-win for the owners and tenants when it started. Tenants got good, affordable places to live and owners got fair and guaranteed rent. But Section 8 slowly eroded into something that is unusable. Every year we go back to D.C. to try to get them to fix it."

Clarke said many of his association's 20,000 members have been subject to rent control and have provided Section 8 housing, "but they'd rather have their property subject to rent control than deal with Section 8, because the 3 percent annual increase under rent control is better than what they're being offered by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department and L.A.'s Housing Authority. It's very expensive to live and to do business here."

Sashae says the residents and tenants coalition will work to get the law changed to cover properties opened after the law passed.

Lafayette's tenant termination notices cited economic reasons and difficulties with Section 8 requirements, inspections, paperwork, getting phone calls returned and attempts to obtain rent increases for leaving the program. "It was a constant waste of time to obtain information."

The apartment owners' attorney H.G. Long would not comment on the decision to withdraw from the Section 8 program, nor the coalition's requests.

Sashae said the tenants had sought assistance from public officials, including county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who referred them to the county's Consumer Affairs Office, and City Councilman Herb Wesson.

Wesson's Communications Deputy Vanessa Rodriguez said, "we're working diligently to find housing for them, but there is nothing we can do at the city level. Our hands are tied."

In the meantime, the residents and tenants have delivered their list of demands to Lafayette.

"It's ok for them to make money," Sashae said, "but in the future, I want them to be mindful of the … people that live here. This was their place, their last stop, their home."


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