464 evictions since 2000: How Ellis Act displacements are priming East Hollywood for a Latino and Asian Removal Project

Using data first gathered by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP), a registry of Ellis Act evictions in one of Central L.A.’s most ethnically rich neighborhoods shows that since 2001, within the 2.4 square mile radius making up East Hollywood, Ellis Act evictions have actually not simply displaced, but disappeared nearly 500 separate households that once resided in the community under rent-controlled (RSO) units. As a result, an area historically known for its working-class Latino and Asian-American culture has lost just as many RSO units since the start of the new millennium to make way for a generation of non-RSO apartments in a city increasingly starved of affordable housing.

As a refresher, the Ellis Act is a law passed by the California legislature in 1985 that gives landlords the right to evict tenants from rent-controlled buildings as long as they sell the property, convert it into condominiums, or let the building sit vacantly for five years. 

The apex point or ‘heart’ of Ellis Act evictions for the area, east of Hollywood and west of Silver Lake, is a triangular stretch just south of the 101 freeway starting at Western avenue and Romaine Street and going southeast to Western and Oakwood and Vermont and Oakwood avenues. One can also think of the stretch as the westernmost side of East Hollywood, or as an array of blocks just above “Koreatown,” the latter of which arguably starts just south of Beverly boulevard.

Full Disclosure: This area, going southeast from Western and Romaine street to Western and Oakwood and Vermont and Oakwood avenues, is not “officially” within East Hollywood boundaries, at least not according to the boundary lines of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council map; instead, its “official” boundaries lie between the “Hollywood Studio” and “Wilshire Center-Koreatown” Neighborhood Council lines.

But ask a local in central Los Angeles whether this “subdivided” vicinity still counts as “East Hollywood,” and you’re likely to get the nod that yes, it very much does. Never mind that the major L.A. City Council Member responsible for drawing boundary lines between East Hollywood and Koreatown to begin with, Herb Wesson, was officially taken to court for doing a terrible job at it; a study of the federal census tracts in the triangular area for this article shows median household incomes, poverty rates, and demographics that are nearly indistinguishable from tracts or blocks to the north and east sides in “official” East Hollywood. In other words, yes, it’s all in the neighborhood.

This said, let’s consider a few facts about the types of renters Ellis Act evictions have disappeared in the area over the last two decades. An inspection of the tract on the northernmost side, comprised of Lemon Grove Park and a handful of multi-unit apartment buildings and bungalows to its west and south sides, or approximately 1,567 housing units, according to Census Reporter, reveals that the community has seen at least 37 Ellis Act evictions since 2001.

As recently as 2018, out of a community of approximately 4,208 residents, 65% were Latino and 15% were Asian-American and AAPI, with more than a quarter of them over the age of 50, and less than a quarter of them known to have a college degree or higher.

Federal Census tract for the Lemon Grove Park community, Los Angeles

Additionally, the median-household income for the tract as recently as 2018 was $44,781, with a typical household size in the area consisting of three family members. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognized a family of three to four in L.A. County earning between $40,000 to $45,000 annually as falling underneath the poverty line, thereby qualifying the “typical” family in the Lemon Grove Park area for very low income housing.

But instead of affordable housing making its way into the community, if not a public library to foster more civic engagement, or even a few more acres of grass for Lemon Grove Park, the almost singular movers and shakers in the tract have been landlords, whose only gifts or charities for the community have been Ellis Act evictions, kicking working-class tenants out and accelerating the neighborhood’s loss of already extremely limited RSO housing units.

Consider one set of former households in the Lemon Grove Park area, listed by the AEMP at 803 North Kingsley Drive. Images show the quickness with which two single-story homes there, originally built in 1912, were flipped after landlords evicted two families from them in early January 2019. Five months after the eviction, circa May 2019, construction began on a new set of buildings: a pair of two-story high duplexes. One year later, the property was listed in a barrage of broker websites as:

“[a] beautifully designed 2019 fourplex located in the Hollywood Studio District moments from Paramount, Netflix, Sunset Gower Studios and much more!”

At other times in the same area, the process for Ellis Act evictions can be as lethargic as it is baffling, as is currently the case for three residences seven minutes walking distance from Lemon Grove Park at 731 North Normandie Avenue, the tenants of which were evicted on April 16, 2019, according to the AEMP, and ownership of which is seeking $900,000 for the deed online.

The apartments are just feet away from an underpass for the 101 freeway, but are still estimated to garner rent for the next landlord in the range of $2,250 a month. Yet given the area’s median household income in 2018 at $44,781 a year, even one “typical” Lemon Grove Park family of three working adults would have to earn almost $4,000 a month between them to pay such a rate, with rent eating up more than 60% of their monthly expenses, well past the threshold for what’s known as severe rent burden.

At still other times, Ellis Act evictions farther south of Lemon Grove Park, as for much of L.A.’s lesser known neighborhoods, lead to the downright weird, as with the case of the “Oxford Lofts” at 435 North Oxford avenue near Western avenue, 15 minutes walking distance from Lemon Grove Park. After evicting 17 households through the Ellis Act on March 6, 2008, landlords still took seven years to go from a pink stucco exterior to a…repainted blue stucco exterior with marble tiling on the entrance steps and some wooden panels to thereby qualify the building as a”loft.” Still, at $2,025 a month, a spot at the “lofts” for renters is slightly less draining in rent than the rate future residents will pay at Normandie avenue below the 101 freeway.

Ultimately, however, Ellis Act evictions along this side of East Hollywood, as for the rest of Los Angeles, are severely damaging to the community since it drains affordable housing for a growing number of people in the area each year. This is captured clearly by a set of “before and after” images of an eviction that disappeared 17 sets of tenants near the Vermont/Beverly Red Line station at 4059 West Oakwood avenue. Tenants there were kicked out on September 18, 2016, according to the AEMP. But today, the address is home to nothing but an empty lot, which remember: may be due to the Ellis Act clause permitting landlords to evict all of a building’s tenants so long as the vacated building–or in this case, lot–sits idle for five years. It’s unknown whether the landlord has sold off the property, or if they’re just biding time, getting through that five-year mark to cash in at the best time.

Locals there should find out soon, however; the lot has now sat idly for more than four years, even while just this year alone, the number of unhoused people in the 13th district, which East Hollywood is a part of, has climbed to nearly 4,000, according to LAHSA. The growing number of unhoused people in the area is obvious to any local who’s seen only more encampments underneath the 101 freeway, on the sidewalks in “Virgil Village,” and along much of Santa Monica boulevard between Virgil and Western avenues, as well as along much of Vermont avenue over the last few years.

Still, skeptics might say, isn’t this just attributable to the fact that Los Angeles is a city “run by democrats,” and not necessarily due to another race-based conspiracy? But remember that in the Lemon Grove Park community, at least 80% of the predominantly working-class residents there as recently as 2018 were Asian-American or Latinx, meaning it’s likely that over the last two decades, just as many of those disappeared from the area were Asian-American or Latinx.

For residents still remaining in the Lemon Grove Park community today, nearly a quarter of whom are Seniors or soon-to-be Seniors, they face only a growing risk of disappearance by Ellis Act evictions given that 37 households up to this year have been lost to the law, with the number accelerating each year. Assuming that each evicted household contained at least up to three family members, that’s at least 111 people disappeared just from the Lemon Grove Park community alone due to the Ellis Act. And I don’t know about readers, but in my own time through this side of town, I’ve yet to find many Asian-American or Latinx families of three to four looking for market-rate “lofts” there to call home. As such, this blogger considers Ellis Act evictions a form of de jure housing discrimination in East Hollywood and Los Angeles.

Speaking of lofts, let’s revisit the tract south of Lemon Grove Park just one more time. In the same area where the “Oxford Lofts” are based, both the median household income for the area as well as the rate of Latino and Asian residents are higher than the Lemon Grove Park area, with residents earning roughly $4,000 more annually than their neighbors to the northeast as recently as 2018. Of the estimated 3,873 residents in the area, the Latino and Asian population make up for a total of 91% of its demographic. Yet neither factor spared residents along this side of the neighborhood from Ellis Act evictions. In fact, the high Latino and Asian-American population may have accelerated Ellis Act attacks, as the tract area accounted for up to 90 disappearances of former tenants–nearly a fourth of all such disappearances in East Hollywood over the past two decades–within its perimeters. Similarly to the Lemon Grove Park tract, chances are that 9 out of 10 of the households disappeared by these evictions were Asian-American and Latinx, allowing us to calculate that at least 270 of such households–and not individuals–have been disappeared from the area over the last twenty years.

Seen enough yet? So has East Hollywood. Consider that images for this article show just four separate Ellis Act evictions near the Lemon Grove Park area, but that with approximately 464 evictions in East Hollywood since 2001, where Thai, Armenian, Latinx, Asian-American and AAPI families have resided for generations, we’d have to expand this article 116 times over to capture the whole length of the Ellis Act’s impact on the community over just twenty years. If each of those 464 households had three to four family members, we’re talking about anywhere from roughly 1,400 – 1,900 people disappeared from East Hollywood over the last two decades at least.

It would take months of time and effort to find just a fraction of that many people to hear their personal accounts of being disappeared from their homes under the Ellis Act, during which the number of disappearances like theirs would certainly grow, as the AEMP shows that Ellis Act evictions have only sped up in L.A. over the last decade especially. In fact, even this year, despite COVID-19 restrictions supposedly shielding more renters in L.A., the local registry shows that Ellis Act evictions still managed to disappear at least 19 different households in East Hollywood. How so?

After only a 60 day “freeze” on Ellis Act evictions enacted by the Mayor’s office in the fight against COVID-19, landlords still returned to East Hollywood to disappear at least 19 households for a total of 48 in the area this year.

If readers are left wondering if and/or how L.A. City Council has accounted for this debacle in any way, look no further than the Housing & Community Investment Development Department website, which is replete with a notice of “what to expect” in the event of an Ellis Act eviction, as well as info on tenant “rights,” and a line or two on getting in touch with a “Relocation Consultant.” But heads up: In case you’d like to dispute any sum granted to you as “relocation assistance,” you’ll have to pay a $200.00 Filing fee to the “City of Los Angeles” to submit the required application to do so. How many working-class families in Los Angeles could even afford such a fee in the midst of an eviction process out of their control?

Ellis Act evictions according to HCIDLA as “Recovery” of rental units by landlords; July 2020.

In any case, as with most data sets, it’s important to emphasize that the handful of Ellis Act evictions noted in this article account for just a decimal point of overall evictions in East Hollywood. This is because Ellis Act evictions are not the only evictions at work, since “cash for keys” evictions have quite possibly disappeared just as many, if not more, working-class families in the area over the same amount of time. And while “East Hollywood” and specifically its “Lemon Grove Park” community are the focus of this article, a barrage of Ellis Act and other “just cause” evictions in the historic Hollywood area to the west, as well as in the famed Koreatown area southward, have primed formerly rent-controlled units in these vicinities for serious redevelopment as well.

Indeed, because Ellis Act evictions and “cash for keys” programs have attacked working-class households all across the city of Los Angeles at higher rates each year, it’s little wonder why increasingly more renters are seeking to enact actual protections for tenants in the face of a landlord, developer, and city hall triumvirate largely hostile to working class families of color here.

To name just one example, during this year’s presidential elections, on Prop 21, which sought to grant cities statewide permission to enact rent control, between approximately 3.5 million people in L.A. County voted on the measure. Of those 3.5 million, less than 60,000 of a majority voted against it. Two years earlier, for a similar state measure known as Prop 10, when 2.9 million voters in L.A. County voted on the measure, only 27,000 in the majority cast votes against its proposed expansion of rent control. Clearly, increased protections for renters is a hot issue in Los Angeles and across California, which the Ellis Act has no respect for either way, but which has bolstered both tenant rights advocates as well as the powerful landlord industry to mobilize votes.

Still, even given two back to back losses for renters at the polls recently, ask any tenant on the side of the growing scores of working-class Latino and Asian-American families who’ve been disappeared by the Ellis Act and other schemes from the Lemon Grove Park area, East Hollywood, and throughout L.A. if a “silent majority” is still on their side, and I can assure you that yes, it very much still is. Count every eviction. In East Hollywood, they are 464 due to the Ellis Act since 2001, and rising. The work to mobilize continues.

J.T.

Meet The Anti Eviction Mapping Project in Los Angeles

Originally founded in San Francisco in 2013, the Anti Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) was a response to the city’s hostile developments against working class families to make room for the tech and AirBnB booms there over the last decade that have kept San Francisco, along with much of the Bay Area, within the top five most unaffordable cities in the country for nearly a decade. Since then, a mix of scholars, activists, artists and working-class voices have regularly updated and expanded the reach of the AEMP to create visibility for the role of Ellis Act evictions in the manufacturing of unaffordability in the state of California.

The Ellis Act, a state law passed in 1985 that was originally intended–at least on paper–to give “mom and pop” landlords the opportunity to leave the rental business when they wanted to opt out, has since provided more and more corporate landlords the ability to evict tenants, including tenants living in rent-controlled units, substantially reducing the availability of such units from the rental market for working class families. As a result, since 2001, the city of L.A. alone has lost at least 27,067 rent-controlled units to Ellis Act Evictions.

Since 2017, the AEMP has documented this process in Los Angeles, tracing available public data on the date of evictions, as well as on how many units were taken off the rental market by their displacement. In the words of scholar-activists Terra Graziani, who co-founded the AEMP in L.A., and Mary Shi, a UC Berkeley based scholar, regarding the role of documenting such processes:

“AEMP’s Ellis Act Eviction Map visualized the city’s erased history of “no-fault,” Ellis Act evictions as a series of time-lapsed, exploding, black and red circles. By culminating in the image of a city pockmarked by eviction, this visualization served to re-signify San Francisco as a site of mass displacement and thereby counter growth machine imaginaries of the city as an unblemished terrain ripe for capital accumulation.”

– Data for Justice: Tensions and Lessons from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s Work between Academia and Activism

If you live in the city of Los Angeles, or any of the other AEMP-documented counties, there’s no reason why you should not know how many Ellis Act evictions, for starters, have taken place in your community over the last 20 years. After a brief survey of the interactive map, in the vicinity of the Virgil Village area, which spans the length of only a single mile radius, I counted up to 84 ‘no-fault’ Ellis Act evictions of residents here. I will update the count for the East Hollywood area before too long. Check back for that update.

Meanwhile, to learn more about the AEMP, click the flyer below to check out the latest free talk held by the Anti Eviction Mapping Project in conjunction with the Los Angeles Tenants Union on how to organize for tenant protections in Los Angeles. Tune in with yours truly to learn how you can start a Tenants Union or Association within your community, if not join one nearby. And remember: at the time of this writing, in the city of L.A., more than 2.4 million people of the city’s estimated 4 million residents rent rather than own the homes they live in.

Additionally, from now on, readers can view a histogram charting the number of rent-controlled units lost in L.A. over the past two decades due to the Ellis Act at the footer of this website.

J.T.