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After housing foreclosures, tenants of El Sereno risk eviction

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, more than a dozen families who were homeless or at risk of losing their homes seized vacant public houses in El Sereno, an action they said was cost-driven. astronomical of life in El Sereno. Los Angeles and the need to protect yourself from the virus.

Some stayed, taking advantage of a deal that allowed them to stay legally in state-owned single-family bungalows. Families planted gardens outside homes and sent their children to neighborhood schools.

But now, almost three years later, their leases are expiring and they are not allowed to renew them. A standoff is emerging between public officials who want families to move and some families who do not.

“For now, I plan to stay,” said Martha Escudero, 44, a mother of two and one of the first to take over a house in the neighborhood. “I see no other option.”

It’s the latest dispute in a long fight over homes that began in the 1960s, when the California Department of Transportation began buying up hundreds of properties in El Sereno and nearby communities to prepare for an expansion of the 710 freeway. After decades of fighting, Caltrans scrapped freeway plans in 2018.

All the while, Caltrans-owned homes festered under the cloud of potential demolition. Some had been left vacant and rotting, with faulty wiring and leaky roofs.

But with the persistence of high numbers of homelessness, overcrowding and ever-rising rents in the Los Angeles area, families and the activists who support them have decided to make a statement: there shouldn’t be of vacant state-owned housing during a housing crisis.

In a series of coordinated actions in March 2020, they seized 13 of the homes. Among those who repossessed properties: a family of five who were crammed into a 350-square-foot apartment in Westlake, a near-retirement-age welder who lived in his van, and Escudero and his daughters, who had been in bed. surfing in Boyle Heights.

Caltrans had argued that the homes were unsafe and uninhabitable. But the agency agreed to make repairs and rent more than two dozen of them to the City of Los Angeles Housing Authority so they could be used as temporary housing. Families who had seized homes could stay while they searched for permanent housing.

Eight families signed leases for the homes in fall 2020, agreeing to work with the agencies to find new homes and vacate the properties after two years.

Circumstances have inspired others to seek the same accommodations. On the eve of Thanksgiving in 2020, another group of activists attempted to take over more vacant state-owned homes in El Sereno, using bolt cutters to break into properties. Police took them out the same night in a confrontation that led to 62 arrests.

Many residents of El Sereno remained wary of the constant activity in the neighborhood and urged the state and city of Los Angeles to move forward with plans to redevelop properties into long-term affordable housing. , parks and other amenities.

The two-year leases signed by the eight families are coming to an end. Two have left the houses and moved into permanent accommodation elsewhere, according to Tina Booth, director of asset management for the Housing Authority. But there are half a dozen left. Escudero and another tenant’s time is over this week; the deadlines for the others are in November.

Booth said the terms of the leases with Caltrans and the families were clear from the start, and the two-year limit cannot be extended.

“These homes were never meant to be a permanent housing solution,” Booth said. “We have no legal right to convert them into something they are not.”

The families, she said, have been offered alternative housing over the past two years and received support services.

“We recognize that people want to stay,” Booth said. “It’s just not an option that we have and can offer right now.”

Escudero said none of the options suggested by the Housing Authority would benefit his family; they were smaller apartments than the single family home she is in now. Some were in Inglewood or the San Fernando Valley, more than 20 miles from El Sereno, she said. The distance would make it difficult to maintain community ties, including with the school her 10-year-old daughter attends, which is a short walk from El Sereno’s home.

“The help they give is not so much help,” Escudero said. “As soon as you move into this house, they try to evict you. Once you have established a community and a home, they should just let you stay there.

Booth said the Housing Authority is planning this week issue formal eviction notices, prior to filing an eviction complaint, to households whose leases have expired. Booth said the agency does not plan to force the families to leave immediately, but the notices will begin a month-long final effort to find them alternative housing.

California Daily Newspapers

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