Eminent Estate for the People! A statement from the Hillside Villa Tenants Association

Hillside Villa tenants come together to encourage City Council to acquire Hillside Villa apartments through eminent domain. (Photo by Bryan Sih.)

With COVID-19 eviction protections still set to expire, as well as the tsunami of evictions that is sure to result, now is the time now for the City to take back our home, the Hillside Villa Apartments, from slum lord Tom Botz.

We, the Hillside Villa Tenants Association, are a collective of poor and working-class Latino, Asian and African-American tenants. We’ve been fighting to stay in our homes for over three years after our 30-year affordable housing commitment expired in 2018, and Botz immediately raised our rent by over 200%. We are first-generation immigrants and refugees, seniors with disabilities, and families who have called this building and Los Angeles’ Chinatown home for decades.

On September 13, 2021, the Los Angeles City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee heard a motion to authorize a $46 million loan from the city’s reserve fund to initiate the purchase of Hillside Villa from Botz. Authorizing this loan and using eminent domain to purchase our building is the most cost effective and efficient way for the city to keep our housing units affordable.

Allies and supporters submitted 420 written public comments, and all verbal comments during the meeting were in favor of passing the motion. However, the Budget and Finance Committee, led by Council member Paul Krekorian, decided to delay the vote. They requested a report from the Los Angeles Department of Housing which was to be completed within 30 days.

Three months passed and our worries about whether we could stay in our homes grew. We tried several times to schedule a meeting with Krekorian after the city failed to complete the report within 30 days. We called, then emailed, and finally showed up at Krekorian’s house. It was only then that the Krekorian staff finally agreed to meet with us.

When we met with Krekorian’s office in December, we were shocked, furious and disgusted by the demeaning remarks of his staff. Matt Hale, Krekorian’s deputy chief of staff, said he pushed back on authorizing the loan because, in his own words, “I have to protect the interests of taxpayers.”

Aren’t we public interest taxpayers? Isn’t stopping the mass eviction of over 100 families during a citywide housing crisis in this city’s best interest?

Aren’t we also important people?

As low-income, working-class people, we’ve contributed more to this city than wealthy landlords and developers ever did, with their loopholes and subsidies that allow them to pocket millions of dollars from taxpayers.

Politicians like Krekorian are eager to treat us like people and pretend not to be heard when trying to get our vote. Yet the moment we hold elected officials accountable for using public funds for our benefit instead of simply taking advantage of us, they are dismissing our interests and disrespecting us as people.

On the other hand, wealthy developers and landlords, Olympic Committee members, and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers are always treated with respect by politicians. Officials give their organizations billions of dollars in public funding despite the insurmountable harm they have caused working-class communities of color like ours.

Shortly after our December meeting with the Krekorian team, we were heartbroken to learn that 14-year-old Valentina Orellana Peralta and 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez, two Latinx voters from the Krekorian district, were murdered by LAPD officer William Dorsey Jones Jr. The City Council continues to approve annual budgets of more than $3 billion in public funds for a police department that kills Los Angeles residents, as they drag their feet on a budget of 46 million dollars ready this would allow 124 working-class families to stay in their homes and keep their rent permanently affordable.

We’re tired of our elected officials treating us like our lives are less important than keeping up the city’s murderous police and supporting gentrification projects, such as SoFi Stadium and the Dodger Stadium gondola, which serve only to the elite.

During the pandemic, many of us have lost our jobs as well as loved ones, including beloved members of our tenant association. Some of us fell ill with COVID-19 during the recent Omicron surge, adding further stress to the constant worry of losing our homes. It has now been over seven months since the Budget and Finance Committee met in September, and we cannot wait any longer.

We call on hypocritical politicians like Krekorian, who sit comfortably in million dollar homes bought with publicly funded salaries, to truly serve the public. We call on the City of Los Angeles to stop subsidizing wealthy developers and landlords, cancel the Olympics, fund the LAPD, and use eminent domain for a genuine public interest. They can start by voting YES to approve the loan to expropriate Hillside Villa.

Eminent domain for people! The time for eminent domain is now!