The Exposition Evictions and the Fight for Housing in South Central
By Paul Lanctot & Christina Sanchez Juarez
It’s been six months since tenants in seven buildings along Exposition Blvd near USC were hit with eviction notices, their lives hurled into uncertainty and chaos by new owners Chung Suk Kim (김정석) and Hae Jung Kim (김해정). The Kims never bothered to formally introduce themselves to their new tenants after purchasing the buildings for $8.5 million last September, instead choosing to immediately post 60 and 90-day notices to vacate on all units, explicitly stating that the Exposition apartments would be remodeled and rented exclusively to USC students. The buildings sit one block over from USC’s southwest entrance and are adjacent to the Expo/Vermont metro stop. They are, in short, a developer’s dream come true: the perfect land grab in the never-ending game of speculative development.
The tenants, over 80 people, almost exclusively working-class people of color, quickly realized that what their new landlord had done was perfectly legal under the law because their buildings did not fall under the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). It didn’t matter that some were on Section 8, or that many were placed there by the county’s transitional housing Pilot program — tenants had no right to their homes of 13, 16, 17 years under the law. In response, the tenants, after seeking the support and assistance of the LA Tenants Union, formed the Exposition Tenants Association.
From the beginning of their collective struggle against the Kims, the tenants have had to endure slumlord living conditions — a disabled stroke survivor on the 3rd floor of one building still has no access to an elevator, and is essentially home-ridden as a result. On top of the roaches, mold, and broken heaters, the owners have harassed tenants by turning off the power and water in several buildings back in January and, more recently, by shutting off the gas in two units for weeks at a time. While all of this is blatantly illegal, tenants without excess capital at their disposal are hardly able to access the legal resources required to pursue an affirmative legal case. A lack of funding yet again leaves the poor without adequate use of their rights in this city. Meanwhile, the Kims prioritize what they really care about: renovating the vacant units for incoming USC students.
Exploring all possible options, no matter how bleak, the tenants have met with staff from Council District 8, although never with Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson himself. The councilmember is much more interested in using his “grassroots” background to snag roles as a keynote speaker at non-profit conferences deliberating how to carve up South Central for varying capital interests. Note the discussion in the linked brochure on how to “urbanize” Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing complex in Watts, led by two white businessmen (but hey, I’m sure they love rap). While the councilmember cashes in on the social capital of YIMBY-ism and $100+ ticket prices, the Exposition tenants wait for his public support denouncing their evictions and the gentrification of his district, or even just the opportunity to meet with him.
So, what are tenants to do when the law is so explicitly on the side of landlords, and when city officials focus solely on lining the pockets of rich developers to the detriment of their constituents? The only thing they can do: collectively fight. As of today, the Exposition tenants are still in their buildings and intend to be for much longer — a far better prospect six months on than what they initially feared after having been told they had two months to vacate. As their first court appearance comes on May 1st, May Day, the desire to ramp up the pressure on the landlords is high, with tenants going to protest at their slumlords mansion in Buena Park this Sunday, April 22nd.
Their goal is simple — to meet with the owners and negotiate their living situations — a demand that they first articulated in November and one that the owner continues to refuse, using tactics akin to those of the Mariachi’s landlord BJ Turner. This is to be expected given the Kims are being represented by the same legal team as BJ Turner, Satan’s very own Daggenhurst, Felman & El Dabe. The Kims continue to refuse to be in the same room as the tenants, claiming their safety as a primary concern. This “concern”, as USC reminds us with its “safe-zone”, staffed by armed guards in white vans and “Security Ambassadors” for its precious, affluent students, is that the Black and Latinx folks of South Central are too dangerous to be around.
The overbearing reality of the situation is that this is just one case of many in South Central, albeit one very large case, affecting over 80 people. Since beginning our support of this fight back in November, we at the South Central Local of the LA Tenants Union have been contacted by countless other tenants, many in multi-unit complexes, regarding evictions and perpetual harassment (if they were lucky enough to have basic eviction protections under RSO). We’ve been made aware of other buildings that are eerily similar to the Exposition evictions. Similarly, in other Locals of the Union we see slumlords exploiting their tenants in pursuit of profit.
Tensions in South Central are rising. Evictions across the neighborhood and across the nation continue to spin out of control. As the Black population of South Central decreases rapidly, their absence leaves behind the legacy of a vibrant community built through common struggle. The very legacy that the city’s politicians have tried so desperately to erase time and time again.
The gentrification of South Central is spawned by numerous factors as mentioned above: USC and their continued expansion and policing of the community; the Board of Supervisors and their haphazard mickey mouse fix for homelessness — the Pilot program; the City Council’s complete ineptitude; Mayor Eric Garcetti and his false promises; the city attorney’s excessive use of gang injunctions; Metro development that prioritizes tourists over the community; and the gentry who continue to say that this change is good, while they sip $5 lattes at Weird Wave and “innovate” at the Reef. The forces of gentrification are legion, catering to global investors’ boundless desire to speculate in the region.
The pressure is on us as tenants to push back — to organize into unions and Tenants Associations in order to make housing a human right. A statewide campaign to repeal the reactionary Costa-Hawkins Act is underway, hoping to arm rapidly gentrifying municipalities with adequate rent control laws to stem the tide of displacement sweeping the state. Meanwhile, the up-and-coming PHIMBY movement seeks to reclaim the narrative around housing — sharpening the contradiction between the lived experiences of working-class people of color and the utopian liberalism of so-called YIMBYs, while challenging the inherent racism of an ideology premised on the belief that working-class Latinx and Black folks are intolerant of change.
We outright reject the YIMBY notion of wealthy non-profit executives solving an increasingly desperate housing crisis through the purported panacea of planning law deregulation. We demand universal rent control to save our communities in danger right now and a full-scale re-investment in public housing.
Will we win? We don’t know. But we’re not about to give up our communities to bicycle cafés without a fight. If the Exposition tenants lose their eviction cases, the South Central Local of the LA Tenants Union will be on the front lines ready to form a blockade around the buildings to protect their homes.
You can’t displace our community without a struggle. We won’t let you place even more vulnerable people under the threat of homelessness.
Come out this Sunday to support tenants fighting for their homes, their communities and their lives. Support the movement to make housing a human right — not a speculative asset profiting off the displacement of the poor.
Originally published at knock-la.com on April 17, 2018.