At a press conference late last month at the Sol y Luna Apartments, resident Noemí Flores recalled how she struggled to pay $1,300 monthly rent for her old one bedroom apartment and how her life changed when she moved into the “affordable” housing development on 1st Street.
“It’s been a blessing,” she said about the newer and bigger place for which she pays $630.
Flores spoke at a press conference on behalf of the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), the nonprofit developer of the 53-unit Sol y Luna and one of several organizations opposed to Measure S.
Had the limits that would be imposed under the ballot measure been in place five years ago, “we would not have been able to build Sol y Luna,” argued ELACC president Isela Gracián.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles voters will weigh in on Measure S, which seeks to impose a two-year moratorium on any construction that seeks zone changes or any alteration to city rules. Measure S would also prevent city officials from amending the document that governs city development, known as the General Plan, so that individual projects can be given the green light on locations where they would otherwise be forbidden.
Opponents at the gathering argued that the ballot measure would cut jobs and worsen the city’s housing crisis, especially affecting working class communities like Boyle Heights.
“If we’re not allowed to build affordable housing, the ending result will be increased rents,” agreed Councilman José Huízar at the Sol y Luna press conference, where he announced that Governor Brown was officially joining the opposition to Measure S.
Huízar explained that the city council had already committed to overhauling its community plans on a timely basis, making the prohibition on the General Plan amendment unnecessary.
“Planning and development have not been kind to the Eastside,” said Gracián. “We’ve had hundreds of homes dismantled without replacement dating back to the construction of the freeways. The time to replace it is now, and we need the same planning tools that Measure S would ban.”
But backers of Measure S argue that out-of-scale developments are ruining neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and displacing longtime residents.
A coalition of tenants’ organizations and other groups gathered a few days later at Little Casa theater –just a few blocks West of Sol y Luna– decried that two of the 10 biggest housing developments being planned in Los Angeles County are in Boyle Heights: the Wyvernwood Apartments and the Sears Tower retail and housing development.
Elena Popp, an attorney with the Eviction Defense Network, said that “luxury developments” such as what’s being planned for Wyvernwood have the collateral effect of raising nearby rent prices.
“If we lose Wyvernwood, we lose the whole surrounding neighborhood,” Popp said. “Big luxury developments force the displacement of its neighbors.”
Leonardo Vilchis, with the local tenant’s group Unión de Vecinos, argued that most of what is being currently developed as “affordable” housing is actually not affordable to poor people living in Boyle Heights. He said that “well intentioned people” including union members, politicians and non profits have argued incorrectly for years that development is good for the neighborhood.
“The truth is that in 30 years living in this community, all I’ve seen this train of development do is destroy rent-controlled units, displace people from their communities and generate short-term employment,” Vilchis said. “We constantly have more people without homes, more people that cannot pay their rent, more people being pushed out of their neighborhoods with no solution in sight. Measure S stops that train and opens the doors so that there is a new conversation about what it is that our communities really need.”
ELACC’s Gracián said that even a two-year slow down on housing development would be detrimental. “For a family waiting to move into an affordable housing unit, it is too long.”
But Vilchis said that when the Pico Gardens housing development was demolished in 1996, city officials argued that 10,000 new homes needed to be built every year to deal with the housing crisis. “Twenty years have passed and the crisis has not been resolved, it’s actually worsened. [Waiting] another two years is nothing.”
Photo above: Councilman José Huízar speaks at press conference in opposition to Measure S at the Sol y Luna Apartments in Boyle Heights.