Lament of Los Angeles’ working-class poor in housing crisis: ‘Very sad the way I live now’
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (The Tidings) - At half-past six on a late fall Thursday evening, mission-style St. Odilia Church at 53rd and Hooper was bursting with Latino families plus a scattering of black men and women. They weren’t here for some special weeknight liturgy or even a holiday concert, but to address what is arguably Los Angeles’ number one spreading social quandary — the housing crisis for poor and working class people.
CHARGED UP - Congregants show their support for affordable housing at St. Odilia Church rally in South Los Angeles. (R.W. Dellinger)
To their left was a blown up “Housing Pledge” placard on an easel asking city council members to commit to work toward four goals: a citywide mixed-income housing policy; a dedicated permanent revenue source to fully fund the Housing Trust Fund; a real effort to preserve existing affordable housing units; and a comprehensive tenant education campaign.
On their right was a red LA-VOICE-PICO sign that proclaimed “Putting Faith Into Action Through Social Justice.” The grass-roots community organizing group, with 25 congregations in Greater Los Angeles, was sponsoring the St. Odilia housing action and others around the city.
Guadalupe Arroyo, a short woman in a powder-blue sweater, walked wearily to the wood pulpit. For 10 years she’d lived comfortably in her tiny apartment, but then her building was sold and the new owner ordered all tenants out so he could remodel the units, she explained in softly spoken Spanish. The landlord, who simply said he couldn’t give them any relocation money because he was broke himself, had tenants sign a paper she didn’t understand.
“I haven’t been able to find a place where I can live like I used to,” she testified. “I found a little bedroom, but I could not live there any longer because there were people who were drinking and they wouldn’t let me sleep. Later on, another family from my church adopted me. I pay $450 but I don’t have any privacy. It’s so small I had to get rid of so many things that my children have given me.
“Honestly, I’m so depressed, my heart aches not only for me but many people that I know who live like me. I know people who live on the street where I live, where they rent only a bedroom but they have children, too. That makes me so sad that children have to live like that.”
Wiping her eyes and struggling to finish, Arroyo added, “It’s very sad the way I live now. I earn minimum wage. I cannot pay $700 for rent. It’s too much. Too much!”
When it came her turn to speak, Councilmember Perry, in alternating rapid-fire English and Spanish, said she understood the congregation’s concerns about housing because she represented the largest number of homeless people in Los Angeles County on skid row. And she promised there were “thousands of housing units coming on line” in her District 9.
“I support advocacy for renters’ rights and the development of much more affordable housing citywide - and especially in areas of the city where people have done next to nothing,” she pledged. “I will continue to encourage the development of affordable housing in my district and the housing trust fund.”
Marquez, the housing department manager, likewise declared that City Hall was deeply concerned about the local housing issue and had already taken action. In the last four years, she boasted that her department had inspected nearly 800,000 rental units cited for different offenses. Moreover, she and her colleagues had “completely rebuilt” the City of Los Angeles’ rent division.
“We have funded over the last four years now over 5,000 affordable housing units throughout Los Angeles,” she stressed. “This represents in four years a total now of over $1.3 billion of total investment to build those 5,000 units. We’re also over $40 million in city dollars in helping families buy their homes. If I were to count that in terms of the values of their homes, we would well be over $2 billion in investment.”
City of renters
But other speakers on the agenda weren’t buying all this happy housing news. Larry Gross, longtime head of the Coalition for Economic Survival, pointed out that Los Angeles as a city of renters faced the nation’s worse housing crisis.
“More people are paying a greater percentage of their income for rent, wages are not keeping pace with rising rents, families are forced to double-up and triple-up because they can’t afford the rent - creating one of the nation’s most serious, overcrowded conditions here,” he declared in English, which was translated into Spanish. “And if you’re forced to move, it’s unlikely that you’re going to find any housing in your community that you can afford.
“There’s a desperate need for a real commitment to produce substantial numbers of new affordable housing units,” the community activist said, his voice rising. “But even that is not enough because we can’t simply build ourselves out of the affordable housing crisis we’re in. Because for every affordable housing that we build, we’re losing an equal number of units.”
Just over the last five years, Gross reported, Los Angeles had lost 13,000 rental units to condo conversions and the demolition of aging ...
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