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Los Angeles Finally Has a Union to Represent Renters

Los Angeles has the highest percentage of renters of any big US city, well over half of Angelenos rent, and still renters are pretty much second class citizens. Property owners have spent the years since the last recession raising rents in LA to outpace inflation, and to far outpace wages, to where a person earning LA's median income has to put nearly half of that money toward paying rent (forget ever saving enough to buy). And still landlords lobby city and state governments to pass on more and more costs—water, important earthquake retrofits—to their tenants, even though they'll reap all the financial benefits from making them.

And then there's the Ellis Act, a California law that allows landlords to evict all of their rent-controlled tenants if they intend to convert their building to another use, like condos or a hotel. Since the recession, the use of Ellis has skyrocketed in Los Angeles, even in cases when landlords don't have permission or the zoning exemptions necessary to convert their buildings.

And it's property owners who have the sympathy and the ear of politicians, since they're a more stable voting base and are generally richer, and so have the time and money to invest in local races; they also have powerful lobbying groups like the Apartment Associaton of Greater Los Angeles.

Finally, having had enough, here comes the LA Tenants Union to represent renters and those pushed out of housing altogether, into the streets (those numbers are rising in LA too). It's open to all (they meet twice a month) and are member-led—attendees vote on which issues are priorities and how they'll deal with them. They formed this summer and in the week leading up to Halloween are holding their first major series of actions: Day of the Dead. Days of Rage.

The fun starts Sunday at the high-profile Villa Carlotta, a 1920s building in Hollywood that had been a home to artists for decades before new owners began Ellis Act evictions just before Christmas last year (a few tenants are still holding on). Aside from a standard protest (supporters are asked to wear red "to symbolize the housing massacre"), there will be a performance piece called "Ghosts of the Carlotta-Present" (we hear it involves real ghosts).

Nightmare in District 24, on Monday, protests Ellis Act evictions nearby in Los Feliz. Nightmare Treatment by City Officials on Tuesday is organized byt the Los Angeles Community Action Network and focuses on homelessness, both providing more affordable housing and ending the measures that criminalize homelessness (the city spends almost all of its homelessness money on policing).

On Thursday, Nightmare in Boyle Heights will address Metro's approach to transit-oriented development, which protesters say is "inaccessible for neighborhood residents most in need." Nightmare Downtown, on Friday, is organized by residents of developer Barry Shy's many buildings, who have had their rents raised by 10 percent, despite asking for a decrease because of what they say are "subpar services and amenities listed in our leases but not provided."

More actions will be added throughout the week; you can get info on all of it over at the LA Tenants Union's Facebook page, and Twitter in English and Spanish.
· LA Tenants Union [Facebook]
· The Average Angeleno is Now Paying Nearly Half Their Income Toward Rent [Curbed LA]
· Inside Hollywood's Legendary Villa Carlotta as It Anxiously Awaits Renovation [Curbed LA]