The Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) and fellow members of the LA Right to Housing Collective went trick-or-treating for “somewhere good to sleep” on October 29th.
Linda Valverde went trick-or-treating, but instead of something good to eat, she focused instead on “somewhere good to sleep.” She was one of the many volunteers who marched wearing costumes on Oct. 29. Near the Metro station at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue a variety of groups banded together. It wasn’t yet Halloween, however they feel there is something just as frightening lurking in city policy.
Members from LA CAN, Coalition LA, the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union, Comunidad Presente, People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWR) and others joined together to support a rally organized by the Los Angeles Right to Housing Collective. Many of the groups present are members of the collective, as they share similar views on the universal right to shelter.
Due to rising discontent regarding the availability and adequacy of public housing initiatives by the City of Los Angeles, these groups marched from the Metro station to the steps of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s own subsidized mansion on Irvine Street and Wilshire Boulevard.
“He was voted in on a progressive ticket,” said Deanna Weakly of LA CAN. “He campaigned as ‘the people’s mayor.’ We want to know what people he’s talking about.”
“It’s appropriate that this happen near Halloween, because we can be his nightmare,” she added.
They describe current renting policy as insensitive and impractical in LA’s current economic climate. Specifically, they targeted two issues: the ability of landlords to continue to raise rent toward the economically disadvantaged, and the elimination of certain subsidized housing programs in Los Angeles.
The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) oversees the implementation of Section 8. The program, federally funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was enacted to provide housing to low income, disadvantaged and elderly citizens. Using two types of housing programs, project-based and tenant-based, HACLA is responsible for organizing public housing.
In the final draft of the agency’s 2011 plan, HACLA mentions a “disposition,” or phase-out, of three public housing properties: Pueblo Del Rio, San Fernando Gardens and Estrada Courts. These total 1,522 living units of various sizes.
“The number of people being displaced is unimaginable,” said Steve Diaz of LA CAN.
The plan does allow for public meetings and guarantees current residents of continued housing, explaining the release of these properties as a transfer of ownership to HACLA’s “non-profit entities.” However, many are skeptical of any perceived good intentions.
According to a recent report [sic – relinked] by the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Los Angeles consistently falls short of its projected 8,000 unit minimum of additional public housing each year. And only “about half of those [are] affordable to low-income people,” said the report.
“If we fight the fight in their way, it’s going be council chambers,” said Pete White, organizer for LA CAN. “We know in council chambers, they’ll lock the doors on us.”
In May, a proposed ordinance to stop landlords from raising rent was sent back to a committee for review, effectively suspending any action from taking place. Many activists who organized the march were present at the City Council’s meeting, and some were restrained by police due to alleged unruly behavior.
Regardless of community outrage, the rent increases subsequently occurred in July.
The groups rallied at the Metro station until 6 p.m. It included bilingual speeches, translated in part by Davin Corona of Comunidad Presente. There also was a poetry performance by Mark Lipman of POWR entitled “My Government Won’t Let Me.”
“The right to housing is not an option, it’s an obligation,” said Lipman. “They must provide housing and provide a social security net. There’s a floor for raising rent, there has to be a floor for how hard we can fall.”
After a rally in front of the Metro station, the crowd proceeded down Wilshire Boulevard uninterrupted by police or traffic. They filled the sidewalk in double-file lines before gathering in front of the mayor’s residence.
After about a half-hour of protest, some members performed a comedic skit in front of the residence. The ten minute piece regarded a situation where the mayor is served an eviction notice with 30 days to vacate, reflecting what many low-income families are experiencing. When he tries to validate his actions instead of complying with the people’s mandate, an LAPD officer rushes in to arrest him.
“In this city, it is clear that we don’t count,” said White, “that it’s the politicians that count, the landlords that count. … The poor people don’t count. So we’ll stand up and fight, because housing is a human right.”