Boyle Heights residents fight new wave of gentrification

By Nylene Garcia
April 22, 2021

BOYLE HEIGHTS, Calif.- Known for its elote men, authentic mexican restaurants and mariachi music, the streets of Boyle Heights echo the culture and language that built it. However, many in the highly Hispanic populated area fear the neighborhood is at risk of a severe cultural loss as gentrification amplifies all over Los Angeles. 

The emergence of new business owners and properties are raising property values to the point where residents cannot afford to live there anymore, which results in local’s fear of a cultural disappearance of their beloved neighborhood.

Top of Boyle Hotel in Boyle Heights, Calif.

“Basically this community because of its character — an all Latino community with lots of traditions — became very attractive,” said Leonardo Vilchis, co-director of Union de Vecinos and resident of Boyle Heights. “Then we had an increase of investment once again; this time through a process of changing the culture of the community.”

Union de Vecinos is a nonprofit organization based in Boyle Heights that provides legal assistance and resources to residents facing issues with their landlord and are prone to displacement. They also push back against gentrification.

However, gentrification is not seen as a negative thing in all eyes of the community. 

“Growing up in it, am I mad at it? No. I feel safer. Property values have gone up, and I do feel because there are still so many Latinos in the community.. we do preserve our neighborhood,” said Rose Garcia, a real estate agent with 20 years of experience whose community in Highland Park is facing the same issue.

Residents like Vichils are worried that local businesses will slowly be pushed out to make way for franchises and corporations. 

They also are concerned that houses with backyards that are typically filled with kids and pets will be torn down and replaced with New York-style apartments, displacing the families that used to live there.

Tenants that are pushed out rely on affordable housing in order to remain a part of their community. Even though this housing is built for them, some are found ineligible and do not qualify.

“It was really problematic that we were organizing people to build affordable housing, but they could not live in it.”

“It was really problematic that we were organizing people to build affordable housing, but they could not live in it,” Vilchis said. “Sometimes they had to use their credit card to buy things that they couldn’t afford, and because they needed them they made the payments late. So, that would not mark them in terms of qualifying for the housing.”

Gentrification is not often understood by the residents who are affected. Consequently, they can unknowingly have their own hand in their displacement.

Some tenants would agree that rent control and “Just Cause Eviction” policies could help halt gentrification and allow them to stay in their neighborhood. Rent control places a limit on how much monthly rent can be increased and Just Cause does not let anyone get evicted without a reasonable justification. 

Policies like the Ellis Act are making it easier to push these type residents out of Boyle Heights, as it allows landlords to evict residential tenants with no option of staying in their homes. Buildings are then renovated and sold to new tenants down the line. 

Garcia said developers often financially back government officials and use the policy to profit at the expense of tenants.

“You have this big developer … who wants to build townhomes or track homes. They get this Ellis Act to go through government channels to get these things approved. That’s kind of who I think is the big bad wolf in this scenario,” Garcia said. “To be able to enact the Ellis Act, you have to not rent again.” 

Key Policies that help both residents and landlords.

Garcia added that once tenants are evicted using this policy, owners sell individual parcels for a large amount that no former resident could ever afford. 

Another policy that is displacing tenants is the Cash for Keys agreement. The agreement is between the resident and landlord, where the resident settles for cash and agrees to move out by a certain date that both parties agree on. 

“Never anybody in my experience has been forced. They’ve all been voluntarily willing to take the money and leave. They find other apartments and sometimes we help them or sometimes they’ll take that money and go live with their kids,” Garcia said.

As situations differ, this does not always result in residents finding a home. That’s what local jeweler Eddie Tamayo said happened to his friend that sold his home in a Cash for keys agreement.

“He got about $60,000 but to me I never saw it. It just went in gasoline and expenses. It didn’t improve their lives,it helped to maintain them at maybe a good level but it’s gone,” Tamayo said.

As gentrification continues, it is almost inevitable, and some residents do not realize what is happening to them.

“I don’t think it’s getting worse. I don’t think it’s getting better,” shared Garcia. I think it’s a stagnant part of our makeup, and it’s everywhere.”

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