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LA to buy Chinatown apartments amid rent increases

After a unanimous vote on Friday, the Los Angeles City Council has begun the process of trying to buy a housing development in Chinatown due to tenant complaints about rent increases.

“We’ve been fighting for three years. It’s been hard, it’s been very stressful, but we’re here, and this is our final moment,” said Nancy Ramirez, a resident of the building for 26 years, to Fox LA.

This is part of Chinatown residents’ greater battle to fight for housing in the face of gentrification.

Tenants of the building have been asking the city for help combatting the unaffordable rent, reports CBS News.

The building is Hillside Villa, one of thousands of buildings in LA constructed with decades-old loans from the city. Originally, the developers were obligated to allow affordable housing units, but many of those agreements are expiring, so landlords are raising rents. The Hillside Villa apartments in particular were constructed with loan assistance of around $5.5 million.

According to Fox LA, residents of the apartments have lobbied since 2020 for the city to purchase the building, arguing the landlord increased some rent prices by as much as 300% after the building’s affordability covenant expired in August 2020. Tenants claim that some were paying around $900 to $1,200 a month and saw rent increase up to $3,200 a month.

One resident, Alejandro Gutierrez, told council members that his $1,063 rent was increased to $2,660, with parking fees increasing from $50 to $100 as well. He claimed his landlord told him to seek rental vouchers, which take years to get.

“At Hillside Villa, our community made anything from $3,000 to $20,000 last year,” a Chinatown organizer and member of the Hillside Villa Tenants Association told the city council. “Many are one step away from being unhoused, many have experienced homelessness and finally found refuge at Hillside Villa only to wonder how they’re going to survive a 300% rent increase.”

“Thirty years ago, we built about 10,000 units of affordable housing,” said the Councilman representing the district to CBS. “These covenants are running out in five to 10 years, and if we don’t cover these next 10,000 units, then we are not going to make any progress.”

Although the landlord of the 124-unit apartment complex previously said he was uninterested in selling the building, the council voted Friday to use eminent domain to start buying the building from the developer.

Councilman Gil Cedillo called the vote “a very major step” in an interview with Fox LA.

“Los Angeles City Council here today has an opportunity to do right,” said Amy ZJ, an urban planner and affordable housing developer in San Francisco’s Chinatown. “Voting no would be telling these landlords that they can do whatever they want. Voting yes would actually support these tenants and keep families together.”

Gutierrez does not want to be pushed out by the rent hike. “Chinatown has been my home for all these years,” he said. “Chinatown is my neighborhood that I love.”

Another organizer with the Hillside Villa Tenants Association, Jacob Woocher, told council members that Friday’s vote offered a chance to show they “care about poor people.”

“L.A. has the opportunity to lead the nation in taking on the housing crisis,” he said. “First Hillside Villa, then the city.”

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