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They lived in an East L.A. home almost 30 years. Now their landlords want to move in.

Days before Christmas, María Vela was saying goodbye to the narrow one-bedroom apartment in East L.A. that has been the backdrop of her family’s lives for the last 30 years.

Vela looked at her wedding photo hanging in their living room. The couple hosted their wedding reception out on the driveway, Vela said, gesturing outside. They raised four children in the duplex near the end of a cul-de-sac in their historically Latino neighborhood. Their kids enjoyed a quintessential East L.A. upbringing until one-by-one they left for college, except for Vela’s youngest girl, a high school junior.

Now the family is being evicted by Christmas so their landlords, who live next door, can move in.

Family evictions

Evictions are on the rise nationwide and in California. While most Los Angeles-area evictions happen because tenants struggle to pay rent, even tenants who manage to remain current with rent are at risk of eviction. These “just cause” or “no fault” evictions happen because landlords want to move into their tenants’ units, renovate a unit or leave the rental market.

No-fault evictions are contributing to the displacement of families from their longtime communities, along with other factors such as rising rents, too few affordable units, and expired tenant protections.

“Homeowner move-ins have been bringing about this exodus of Angelenos leaving their communities because they can no longer afford rent,” said Cinthia Gonzalez, an organizer at Eastside Leadership for Equitable and Accountable Development Strategies (LEADS). “It’s a heavy load.”

After state pandemic-era tenant protections expired, average monthly eviction filings surpassed pre-pandemic levels in a dozen of California’s most populous counties, according to court records obtained by CalMatters.

Counties that extended local eviction moratoria saw delayed, but still stark, eviction increases. That was the case for Los Angeles County, which saw a 17% increase in eviction filings the first eight months of 2023, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Even though there have been state and local efforts to strengthen protections against evictions for “just cause,” those protections didn’t help Vela’s family stay in their longtime home.

A man who identified himself as one of Vela’s landlords told CalMatters he didn’t want to comment on the matter.

Part of a community

Vela has lived in the same home since she immigrated to the U.S. in 1996.

She met her husband at a party while he was visiting Mexico. Within months they wed and went together to East L.A., where he was already living with his three brothers.

When the brothers came across the duplex unit in the early 1990s, it was dilapidated and littered with trash in a neighborhood with active gangs. The brothers asked the landlord if they could fix it up in exchange for being able to live there. The landlord agreed and charged them $300 monthly.

As the family grew, the home started to feel smaller.

Over the years various landlords neglected the property, Vela said. Walls are chipping, holes where mice have crept in are covered by unsecured wood, and mold grows in the bathroom.

But they were able to remain there long enough to give Vela’s children the stability and joyful upbringing they needed to succeed.

Carolina Correa, 23, graduated from Brown University and landed a job at an environmental justice nonprofit in San Francisco. Diana Correa, 26, graduated from UC Berkeley and is pursuing a master’s degree in history. Jesús Correa, 19, started at UC Merced in the fall.

The youngest, 16-year-old Fabiola Correa, wants to follow in her siblings’ footsteps and become valedictorian or salutatorian at Esteban Torres High School. She’s eyeing UC Berkeley too.

Carolina remembers whispering with her siblings as they lay on bunk beds or on the floor, to not wake her parents in the bedroom. They slept in the living room and another living space in the apartment and had little privacy, but it helped them stay close.

Their father taught them to ride bikes and he’d watch them ride in circles on the dead end street, Carolina said. He hosted carne asada barbecues with family. Block parties with live bands and traditional Mexican food and sweets brought neighbors together. 

“It was really nice to just have that literally right in front of my house, on my street, and to be a part of community in a way that is something so special to East L.A.,” Carolina said.

Displaced neighbors

Tina Rosales, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, likened the family’s displacement to other times in history when Latinos were moved from their neighborhoods, including the years before Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.

“This is heartbreaking, but it’s not new,” Rosales said. “It’s a trend. As we put more value on homes and people owning property, we tend to displace the communities that have been there forever.”

Rosales is among the attorneys who worked on a tenant protection law recently passed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to close loopholes to “just cause” eviction protections. The law requires owners who move out tenants and then move themselves or family members  in to reside there for at least a year. And it will require landlords to pay one month’s rent in relocation assistance.

Tenant advocates pushed for the law because they believe landlords were taking advantage of the rules. Landlords sometimes use owner move-ins as a pretense, Rosales said, when actually they want to put their units back on the market at a higher rent.

“It’s important to balance the interests and needs of both (landlords and tenants) while recognizing that housing is a basic need, and as a society we must prioritize keeping people housed,” said Sen. María Elena Durazo, the Los Angeles Democrat who authored the law. “Market housing is a business, and like in many areas of business, consumer protections are necessary in order to ensure that bad actors out to increase their own profits are not able to take advantage of or abuse the consumer.”

Los Angeles County and city have even stronger just cause protections, but local advocates say even those rules have weak spots.

For instance, in L.A. County landlords or their family members who move into tenants’ units have to live there for three years. If they don’t, the previous tenants have a right to move back in under their original lease terms and rent.

But the law seems to place the burden of keeping track of the landlords on tenants. Javier Beltran, deputy director of the Housing Rights Center in L.A., said he hasn’t heard of a case of a tenant successfully reclaiming their unit because of landlord violations.

“In reality once (tenants) move out, it’s hard to keep up with that particular tenant,” Beltran said. “They probably moved on to a different place, situated themselves and to a certain extent, moved on. It’s hard for them to come back.”

‘Terminated for no fault’

On a recent December morning, Vela sat at her kitchen table with her hands on her temples, a folder filled with papers spread in front of her.

“All of this is so frustrating,” she said with a sigh.

On the table was a scanned copy of the most recent $1,000 rent payment she sent, various phone numbers from housing leads scribbled on a notepad, and her official 60-day eviction notice issued October 23.

“You are hereby notified that effective sixty days from the date of service on you of this notice, the tenancy by which you hold possession of the premises is terminated for No Fault Just Cause…” the letter reads.

She spoke in a whisper and raised the volume of her television so her landlords couldn’t hear her talk about the eviction. They live next door and the walls are thin, she said.

Vela always knew eviction was a possibility. The duplex had been bought and sold multiple times in the last several decades, and each new owner had been willing to keep them as tenants, until now.

Eastside LEADS helped Vela delay her eviction by a year and a half after finding flaws in the landlords’ eviction process. For example, Gonzalez said, the landlords offered less than the required amount for relocation assistance.

But after the organization sent a letter to the landlords, they corrected their mistakes and agreed to pay the $12,688 in relocation assistance the county requires in this case.

Searching for housing

Vela has found searching for housing difficult. She and her husband aren’t fluent in English, they are undocumented and they’ve purchased most of their belongings in cash, which means they don’t have much credit history.

Also the going rents in that neighborhood are sometimes double what they’re paying now, which would be impossible for them to afford on her husband’s meatpacking salary, she said.

At one recent home viewing, Vela brought her daughter Fabiola to translate. The landlord interrogated Fabiola: Did the family have visitors often? Did they party? Were they loud?

Vela left feeling dejected and worried about Fabiola.

Carolina has been trying to help from the Bay Area, where she lives. After work or on her breaks, she finds housing leads and makes phone calls on behalf of her parents. She adds herself and her boyfriend as co-signers, hoping that’ll increase her parents’ chances.

“I’ve submitted applications for them to move into places and then burst into tears afterward,” Carolina said. “I want them to get into these places so bad, but because I’m not there I can’t facilitate further. I do what I can and so does my older sister, but it’s difficult.”

Diana, the oldest, feels guilty she hasn’t been able to help as much as she’d like.

“(I was) really angry with myself and with the timing,” Diana said, adding that if the landlords had waited five more years, she could finish her master’s program,  start working and pool her money with her siblings to buy their parents a house. “I was like, damn, I’m not ready.”

Recently she created a GoFundMe page hoping friends and community members will help defray the cost of storage units and moving trucks.

Harder to thrive

Vela said she is coming to grips with the fact that their only option may be to leave East L.A., and maybe Los Angeles altogether. With no immediate home to go to, Vela thought about moving in with her sister in San Bernardino County temporarily while her husband stays in his brother’s El Sereno apartment, closer to his work.

The lack of affordable housing for very poor residents is a major factor in the state’s rising homelessness problem.

Margot Kushel, director of UC San Francisco’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, said even if this family isn’t immediately homeless after vacating their home, they could be at risk for homelessness in the future.

Kushel’s research on homelessness in California revealed 49% of those without a home had been “non-leaseholders,” usually people staying with friends or family until it isn’t possible anymore. Those living arrangements often are precarious and lead families on a path toward homelessness, Kushel said.

She listed other challenges contributing to people’s vulnerability to homelessness: high deposit fees, moving costs, the impact of moving on peoples’ jobs and personal stability.

A recent law passed to limit what California landlords can charge for security deposits won’t be in effect until next summer,  too late for Vela.

Evictions and potential homelessness impact entire families, Kushel said, risking people’s ability to graduate from college or high school and to build wealth in the future.

“Housing is really at the root of thriving,” Kushel said.

Mixed emotions

The solution is to build more affordable housing far faster than Los Angeles is currently doing, said Stuart Gabriel, a real estate professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Most investment in housing creation is driven by profit and built by the private sector.

Not everyone purchases property to make a profit, he said. “It’s a very complicated and nuanced story and doesn’t lend itself to easy culprits and easy answers,” he said.

Vela’s family recognizes their landlords probably just want more space for their family. She said the landlords are two siblings who live with their elderly mother.

The family has conflicting feelings about the landlords and their family’s situation.

“It’s complicated for us because they do have a case and we don’t anymore,” Diana said. “I get it. You bought a house. But at the same time you knew we were here.”

Vela’s husband said he’s grateful for the time they were allowed to stay.

“It just so happened that someone bought the house and now we have to leave. But without resentment or anger,” Jesús Correa Cabrera said. “We’ll close the door behind us and say ‘thank you very much.’ And life goes on.”

Within days the family slowly disassembled their East L.A home, packing belongings they’ve accumulated over several decades into black trash bags and cardboard boxes.

Diana, Carolina and young Jesús’s high school class photos, Fabiola’s shelves of books, the quinceañera and wedding photographs, were all taken down.

As Christmas neared, they summoned a sense of hope for the future.

“I feel sad, kind of stressed for my family,” Fabiola said as she sorted a drawer of colored pencils and pens. “But at the same time I feel like we’re going to get out of this and maybe start a new time of our lives. A new beginning.”

The day before the family was preparing to move out, they heard they were approved for an apartment in El Monte, a one-bedroom  for $1,700 a month, plus utilities and rental insurance.

It’s far from their community, smaller, and too expensive for them to afford comfortably. But the family said they have no other choice.

Western Center Roundup – July 2022

A Summer of Advocacy: Protecting Tenants & Securing Budget Wins

Judge orders CA HCD to stop denying Emergency Rental Assistance until further review

Last month, we told you about our second lawsuit against California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) on behalf of tenant groups over the lack of transparency and due process for applicants to the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). This month brought good news for California tenants in need of assistance in the form of a court injunction ordering HCD to stop denials for rental assistance applications until the court can determine if HCD’s process meets constitutional due process standards.

In the meantime, HCD can continue to approve applications to get assistance to those who need it, but they cannot deny pending applications. Tenants with pending ERAP applications or applications the court decision might make eligible for appeal should continue to contact HCD and fight eviction attempts. We will keep you posted as the process continues, but for now, we are celebrating with a sigh of relief.

Protecting Californians from housing price-gouging after disaster 

The Sacramento team is gearing up for the end of the legislative session in August, which includes pushing for the passage of this year’s Western Center sponsored bills as well as making sure harmful bills don’t pass. Western Center housing policy advocate Tina Rosales has her eye on a problematic bill, SB 1133, that would undo decades of price-gouging protections during disasters and green light landlords who would capitalize on emergencies by hiking rents.

Tina wrote a blog post outlining the spate of problems with the bill and calls on readers to help stop price gouging after disaster by contacting state legislators to urge their NO vote on SB 1133.

California Assembly Holds Inaugural Select Committee on Poverty & Economic Inclusion Hearing  

Western Center and community groups were honored to join conveners Assemblymember Isaac Bryan and EPIC (Ending Poverty in California) for a powerful event centered on shaping California’s roadmap to ending poverty. Western Center’s Director of Policy, Mike Herald provided committee testimony addressing the high costs of being poor, tackling the State’s burdensome CalWORKs requirements and unjust interception of child support that should be benefitting low-income families on CalWORKs. You can read more from EPIC’s Executive Director, Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs on the organizing and policy work to secure this year’s historic antipoverty investments in the State budget and watch a video of the hearing and rally.

Save the Date: 8/15 at 12PM Meet the Advocates Webinar 

Join us for a free webinar focused on Senate Bill 972 and the advocacy efforts to support California’s street food vendors by removing barriers to accessing food vending permits. Community organizers and policy advocates will lead a discussion on food justice, highlighting street vendors’ role in expanding access to healthy food in California’s food deserts and beyond. REGISTER HERE.

Final 2022-23 California Budget 

Finally, in case you missed it, we published Western Center’s overview of the final 2022-23 California Budget at the tail end of June. You can read it here!


California can’t deny pending applications for rent relief while its denials are under review, judge says

“That hearing will probably take place in September, said attorney Lorraine Lopez of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, one of the organizations representing the renters. During the interim, Lopez and her colleagues said, nearly 100,000 households will be entitled to rental benefits without interference by the department.”

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1 in 3 applications denied California rent relief money, thousands still waiting

“People who are eligible for rental assistance are being harmed by these denials,” said Attorney Madeline Howard with Western Center on Law and Poverty who’s leading the lawsuit. “I think there’s some lack of understanding of how quickly evictions move and how many people are facing eviction because they’re not getting the rental assistance in time.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Lawsuit Filed Against CA HCD for Violating Due Process Rights in Emergency Rental Assistance Program

For Immediate Release

Department denied 31 percent of rental relief applications without offering meaningful explanation of denial or a transparent appeals process

Oakland, CA – Community-based tenant organizations Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) along with research and action institute PolicyLink have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for administering the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in a way that is opaque and disproportionately harms tenants on the basis of race, color, and national origin. The suit also challenges HCD’s refusal to provide public records that would shed light on its administration of the program. The organizations are represented by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

“Our analysis of the program data shows that denials have spiked since the program closed, and that 92 percent of denied applicants have incomes low enough to qualify them for the program,” said Sarah Treuhaft, vice president of research at PolicyLink. “So many renters have staked their families’ futures on this program, and they deserve every opportunity to access the relief they’ve been promised.”

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created by the federal government to keep vulnerable tenants housed as a result of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. California received $5.2 billion in federal funds and HCD was charged with creating an application process, screening tenants for eligibility, and distributing the federal funds.

“This lawsuit is necessary to stop the unfair and arbitrary rental assistance denials,” said Jackie Zaneri, senior attorney at Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). “Tenants deserve to have their rental assistance applications fairly considered and to know why they were denied.”

The application process requires extensive paperwork, access to email and an ability to regularly check it, and the ability to navigate the system in English even if it isn’t the tenant’s preferred language. Tenants with limited English proficiency, disproportionately Latinx and Asian tenants, receive notices and requests for documents only in English. After going through that complicated process, tenants wait months for a response, and are receiving a variety of vague responses including approval for partial payments or a full denial of payment without adequate explanation. When PolicyLink requested public records about denials of rental assistance, HCD did not respond.

Vilma Vasquez, a tenant who worked with SAJE described navigating the process, “it was stressful, in psychological terms because sometimes I worried about not being sure if I would receive the payment or not, housing is vital for the life of any person.”

HCD does allow for a 30-day appeal window, but since tenants are not informed as to why they were denied, appeal is a struggle. There is also no transparency in the process around who reviews appeals, and tenants can’t make their case directly with a decisionmaker. As of June 1 2022, 138,000, or 31 percent of households whose applications have been reviewed, have been denied, putting thousands of people at risk of eviction. After an application is denied, a landlord can seek to evict a tenant under state law.

“Tenants are being denied rental assistance that they need to stay housed without being told the reason, or getting a fair chance to contest the denial,” said Madeline Howard, senior attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “The process is profoundly unfair, doesn’t meet constitutional standards, and fails to meet its most basic function – keeping Californians housed.”

Read the complaint HERE.


Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) is a nonprofit law firm that seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change, and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses, and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.

Public Counsel is a nonprofit law firm and the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services. It serves communities locally and nationwide by advancing civil rights litigation, advocating for policy change and providing free legal services to thousands of clients annually.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.

CA eviction moratorium and state rent assistance both ending

“Lorraine Lopez, from the Western Center on Law & Poverty, explains the situation. “So folks are now being left, pretty much being in the cold once the application closed,” Lopez said. Her group has filed a lawsuit on behalf of tenant rights advocates, saying the state is violating the law by not providing up to a full 18 months of rental assistance.”

More Here


Gov. Newsom Proposes $2.7B For Californians Still Waiting For Rent Relief

“Madeline Howard, a senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the dollar amount may be new, but Newsom’s overall plan isn’t — because state lawmakers already committed to paying those applicants. “It really doesn’t change the picture at all,” she said. “People are still going to be waiting many months for their application to be processed. And the state is not indicating that they’re going to change their policy of refusing to pay people any rent that accrued past March.”

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