Parents Preserve Affordable Housing for Low-Income Families

<p>Ruth Young</p>
November 4, 2008

When single father Al Sabo was in a six-month coma due to a serious illness, he says, "My children were all placed into foster care." Once recovered and living on a fixed income, Sabo worked to regain custody of his kids and get his life back on track. He moved into a residential hotel near downtown LA, only to discover that the owners were converting it to luxury housing.

So Sabo joined Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), a community group working against the displacement of low-income people that happens when residential hotels are targeted for luxury development. LA CAN helped Sabo negotiate a deal with the hotel owner: one son would be allowed to move in with him and his housing would be secured at the same rent for a fixed time.

From Parent to Activist

Joe Hernandez, also a parent and hotel resident, says he became involved because losing housing in residential hotels would be a "loss for our kids—our main focus was for our kids and kids on our streets."

But that loss was prevented: In May, hotel residents working with LA CAN won a citywide law to preserve affordable housing in residential hotels by charging large fines to residential hotel owners who convert them to luxury developments. LA CAN's strategies included:

Getting the word out: Residents went door-to-door, informing the community about the threat of displacement from the residential hotels. They handed out fliers "to bring them up to date to what is occurring at LA CAN and their buildings," says Hernandez.

Community meetings: In Residential Organizing Committee strategy sessions, neighbors could "vent—and create action plans," says Steve Diaz, an organizer for LA CAN. They worked out a plan: if hotel owners demolish or convert the hotels, residents should get replacement housing within one mile and at the same rent. Sabo says meetings also "talked about the rights of tenants" and helped recruit more LA CAN members—"trying to get people to organize, to be closely knit."

Talking to decision-makers: Sabo says he and other tenants participated in meetings of the community redevelopment agency and housing authority. LA CAN also brought tenants to visit city council members. Jan Perry, councilwoman for downtown L.A., says parents "demonstrated very clearly that families are impacted by lack of affordable housing" and that they "wanted their affordability and housing protected."

Media coverage: The Downtown News and Los Angeles Times picked up the story of displacement from residential hotels, says Sabo: "Thanks to the media, it became an issue the people of the city became aware of."

Support for residents: LA CAN provided food at meetings and a legal clinic, where residents could meet one-on-one with an attorney.

Seeing Results

  • In May 2006, the city council placed a two-year moratorium on demolishing or converting residential hotels.
  • On May 6, 2008, Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance: If any of 330 residential hotels are converted to other uses, owners must provide replacement housing within two miles or pay a fee that covers most of the cost of building replacement housing.

For more info:


This article originally appeared in the September-October 2008 issue of the Children's Advocate, published by Action Alliance for Children.


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