Residential Hotel Preservation
The Los Angeles Community Action Network’s (LA CAN) campaign to protect low-income housing reached its ultimate success this month when the City Council enacted a permanent Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance. LA CAN is proud to report that several hundred very poor and homeless people led the effort to completely reverse the plans of big money developers and elected officials to remove these buildings from our use. It is one of many David vs. Goliath stories throughout the country where poor people are defeating the investors eyeing our communities. The people do have power, it is being exercised, and developers should watch out.
In 2002, the City of Los Angeles introduced a redevelopment plan that called for the elimination of close to 4,000 low-income housing units in downtown LA, mostly in residential hotels. Residential hotels provide much-needed “housing of last resort” for the lowest income tenants in Los Angeles, many of whom are elderly and disabled. Prior to the passage of a temporary moratorium in the May 2006, hundreds of residential hotel units had been lost in downtown Los Angeles in just two years. With the moratorium set to expire this month, LA CAN members organized a series of actions to pressure the Mayor and City Council to take the next step to permanently protect residential hotel units and their tenants, and they did.
On May 6, 2008, LA’s City Council voted unanimously for a permanent, Citywide residential hotel preservation ordinance, protecting about 19,000 housing units and almost 30,000 people. This outcome was the result of four long years of struggle by LA CAN and our supporters to reverse the plans to displace thousands of low-income people from downtown and convert affordable housing to upscale lofts, boutique hotels, and other uses for the “new downtown.” After slowing down the original redevelopment plan with a lawsuit, we began to see the impacts of unregulated investment gobbling up “underutilized” buildings for adaptive reuse. These supposedly underutilized buildings were actually our homes. The gentrification of downtown Los Angeles, like so many other communities, was nothing but a racist land grab from poor folks by rich folks.
The crisis for long-term, poor residents came to a head in mid-2004 when the Bristol Hotel, home to 100 tenants, was emptied within 3 days – at times at gunpoint. Although the Community Redevelopment Agency had a loan on the property that included an affordability covenant until 2015, the new owner felt completely justified in forcibly removing poor people to make way for his boutique hotel perfect for the vision of their “new downtown.” Displaced Bristol tenants and other LA CAN members were able to turn this travesty of justice into our campaign launch to permanently protect our low-income housing, 95% of which was in residential hotels.
This is a huge victory for poor people in Los Angeles. However, the efforts to “improve” communities for a new, wealthier group of people by removing poor people will not end with one new policy. We know that laws that protect poor people aren’t enforced without an organized and active community, and so we will be working diligently to ensure all of the protections won over the past several years provide real benefits to folks throughout LA. It only took the owner of the Cecil Hotel a few hours to sue the City, claiming the ordinance shouldn’t apply to the 600 units of housing there – so that will be one of our next battles. The fight continues in a downtown intent on removing poor people of color – those with and without housing—and we don’t plan on backing down now!