LA Tenants Union membes protest demanding a rent strike on April 1, 2020 in front of Mariachi Plaza. Photo from LATU Facebook page

Members and allies of the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) in Boyle Heights joined a statewide rent strike on Wednesday, demanding that state agencies implement “rent forgiveness” during the Covid-19 emergency.

Photos posted by the group on their Facebook page showed a few protesters gathered at Mariachi Plaza, wearing face masks and other types of protectors and keeping social distance practices while holding signs in English and Spanish, with slogans like “Choose Food Over Rent” and “Comida sí, renta no”.

Some protested from their vehicles, holding their signs as they drove past the protest.

LATU activists say a statewide moratorium on evictions announced last week by Governor Gavin Newsom –and a subsequent moratorium ordinance approved Friday by the Los Angeles City Council– are insufficient to help low-income renters in communities like Boyle Heights, many of whom may be without an income for several weeks or months.

The group is encouraging Los Angeles tenants to join its “Food Not Rent” campaign, offering a tool kit with instructions to follow to demand rent forgiveness.

An executive order signed by Newsom last month bans landlords in California from executing eviction orders for the next two months –but the governor’s order still allows landlords to evict tenants in June.

Under Newsom’s order, renters must submit a written notice to their landlord stating one or more of the reasons for not paying covered by the moratorium –lost wages, an illness related to coronavirus, having to take care of someone who is ill with coronavirus or having to forego work to take care of children not going to school.

On Friday, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance that adds protection from eviction to families who have had to move in with other families and crowd into apartments, exceeding the number of tenants allowed by law. The ordinance also extended the period tenants have to pay rent –from six to 12 months– and waived fees for late payment.

Earlier in the week, Mayor Eric Garcetti had issued an order prohibiting landlords from removing tenants from rent-stabilized apartments under a clause of a state law known as the Ellis Act, that allows conversion of rental units built and occupied before 1978 into condominiums.

But the LA City Council Friday stopped short of approving an outright ban on evictions being demanded by some activists. After a long and heated discussion, the ban lost by one vote.

In Boyle Heights –where as many as 75% of residents are tenants and as many as 88% of them are protected by rent stabilization measures– activists are saying that a moratorium that would force tenants to pay rent once the crisis is deemed over would create a hardship that many would not be able to overcome.

“We are all suffering, but we shouldn’t have to suffer to this extent,” said Melissa Reyes, a 25-year-old Boyle Heights tenant who told The Guardian she was helping organize Wednesday’s Mariachi Plaza protest. “This is about survival and necessity.”

In a press release circulated this week by the Unión de Vecinos Eastside local, activists gave the example of a member who has a monthly rent due of $2,200 in a household where she and her husband are both out of work due to coronavirus. 

“With the stay at home order, they will not have money for April, May, or June rent thereby accumulating a $6,600 debt,” the release added. “Even with the 12 month repayment plan passed by city council last week, the tenant will have to come up with an additional $550 per month. Thats a 25% rent increase!”

“Without rent forgiveness, how is a tenant going to make up $6,600 in one year? That would require them to get a $6,600 raise. Businesses are not going to give out raises after having to close their doors or reduce hours for several months. Businesses are barely going to have enough funds to open back up let alone hire back at full capacity or even think about giving employee raises. The expectation that business will have the jobs with adequate pay to support the millions of tenants who can’t pay their rent during this crisis is shortsighted and reprehensible,” the release concluded.

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Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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