As it states on its website, "for more than 35 years, the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) has supported the needs of renters and home buyers by providing financing and programs that create safe, decent and affordable housing opportunities for low to moderate income Californians." But now some apartment dwellers in Beverly Grove and the Fairfax District are wondering whether the agency's chairman, Matthew Jacobs, has forgotten— or perhaps, never really embraced—the noble purposes expressed in the state agency's mission statement.
Jacobs has sat on the board since 2012 and was designated chair by Governor Jerry Brown in December, 2013. He has an extensive, accomplished background in real estate finance and development, and is the Principal at Bulldog Partners, LLC., a real estate development company that is now in the process of using the Ellis Act to evict 17 tenants from four rent-regulated buildings, situated on N. Flores St. and N. Edinburgh Ave., to make way for the construction of high-priced "luxury" housing. Passed in 1986, the Ellis Act allows California landlords to get out of the business, evict tenants and sell the property to new owners.
"That this man is head of an agency that supposedly is working to provide affordable housing is outrageous," says Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, adding, "for the last three years we have seen an increase in Ellis evictions and the destruction of affordable housing, and it's only going to get worse."
Ellis Act evictions are taking place throughout Southern California at an alarming rate. According to Curbed LA, they have doubled over last year, and the trend doesn't seem to be abating. Even in Santa Monica, where rent control is religion, people are being forced out in greater numbers onto a market that is shrinking every day, according to the Santa Monica Rent Control Board's Consolidated Annual Report. This is especially troubling given ever-climbing rents in Los Angeles and the rising level of homelessness.
David Modern, an at-large-representative of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council tells Capital & Main, "The same thing has been happening where I live — it's happening all over."
Modern was among a vocal, sign-waving group of 60 residents and tenant activists who assembled Wednesday evening outside of Jacobs' Laurel Avenue office and residence to protest the pending evictions, and to raise awareness of the slated destruction of buildings that were erected in the 1920s and 1930s. Passing motorists shattered the normal tranquility of the neighborhood by showing support with blasts from their horns, while the protestors chanted, "Save our hood!"
Circulated among the crowd was a "Wanted" poster-style photo of Jacobs, with a brief summary of his ambitious construction plans, and accusing him of the "mass destruction of affordable housing." This image was all that was to be seen of Jacobs on this evening. (Jacobs did not respond to phone or email requests for comment.)
There was no shortage of opinion, frustration or anger expressed during the hour-plus demonstration. Karen Smalley is an 18-year resident of one of the buildings who, in February, received her notice to vacate from people who seemed eager to calm tenants.
"We were told, 'Don't worry, they will give you extra time,' and here we are, four months later, and in 10 days we will be out in the street."
Danielle Elliott, a realtor and local resident, came because she was angry about what is happening in the neighborhood.
"I'm with the tenants on this one," she says. "What is going on here and elsewhere just isn't right."
(Lovell Estell III is a Los Angeles-based freelancer who spent nine glorious years as a member of Ironworkers Local 416. This column was posted first at Capital and Main)