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When this Echo Park bungalow court vanishes, so does the $878 rent

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Should the city intervene?

The bungalow court at 1255 and 1251 Sunset Boulevard is slated to be demolished to make way for a larger apartment complex.
Jessica Flores

Nora Sanchez has been renting a unit in a 1920s bungalow court perched above Guisados on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park for a decade. In that time, she’s made the one-bedroom feel like home for her and her son. It’s festooned in Christmas lights, and, at some point, she paid to have a wood fence enclose the yard, which she decorated with potted plants.

“I never moved because I pay $878 a month,” says Sanchez, 53, who cleans homes for a living. Her rent stayed affordable, because the bungalows are rent-controlled, a benefit she will not have for much longer.

Sanchez and the other tenants at the bungalow court received eviction notices in May, with orders to leave by December.

“Seeing so many homeless people, it’s the first thing that came to mind,” says Sanchez, of receiving the eviction notice.

It’s difficult to kick tenants out of rent-controlled buildings. But Sanchez and her neighbors are getting the boot to make way for a larger development. Property owner AYM Investments plans to raze the 10 bungalows to build 70 apartments, including six income-restricted units—apartments that Los Angeles desperately needs, especially along busy corridors like Sunset. (AYM Investments did not return messages seeking comment).

But local housing advocates and now a couple of city lawmakers say Los Angeles should not build at the expense of people who already live there.

In a proposal moving through LA’s City Hall, not only would landowners replacing rent-controlled buildings have to offer tenants space in their new complexes, the units would have to be offered at below market-rate.

Mark Pampanin, a spokesperson for Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu, who coauthored the proposal, said he was amazed these provisions don’t already exist.

“This should have been in place yesterday,” he said.

The proposal seeks to reform the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to decommission their rent-controlled properties when they want to tear them down and rebuild.

It would make one other big change, ending the ability of developers to “double dip” into affordable housing requirements.

Right now, developers have to replace the rent-controlled units they demolish with affordably-priced units in their new buildings. But they can also use those affordable units to qualify for exemptions into the city’s zoning codes under programs such as the new transit-oriented communities guidelines. Essentially, they’re rewarded for displacing tenants, say Ryu and Councilmember Mike Bonin.

“The Ellis Act is causing a major hemorrhage of our affordable housing, and... we are determined to explore and try anything to restrict its application or lessen its horrendous impacts,” Bonin said in a statement.

The Sunset Boulevard bungalows were among the 657 rent-controlled units that property owners sought to decommission this spring. Ellis Act applications for an additional 398 units were filed in the third quarter of 2019, according to data released by the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants’ right group.

In Sanchez’s bungalow court, most tenants are non-English speakers who work low-wage jobs in factories, construction, and housekeeping. They were not offered units in the new building.

The Ellis Act requires landlords to pay relocation assistance, and Sanchez says she was offered $20,450, pre-tax. But, she says, it was not enough, given the cost of housing in the neighborhood.

According to CoStar, the median rent is $1,518, nearly double what Sanchez pays.

“We’ve worked with some of the bungalows on Sunset, there’s a whole bunch of them, from Echo Park to Downtown,” says Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival. “This is clearly part of the gentrification of Echo Park.”

While trying to figure out her options, Sanchez and another resident attended a free legal clinic. But they say they were advised they’d have a better chance fighting or delaying their evictions if more tenants were willing to join them. Some tenants, however, didn’t think it was worth it.

Mario Abeles has lived at the Sunset property for 20 years with his wife and three kids. He says he plans to buy a home, even if that means moving to a different neighborhood closer to his construction job in Sylmar.

“Why fight when they already won?” Abeles says.