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The Daily Beast

Sunday May 31, 2015

California Housing Boss to Build Luxury Condos Over Poor Tenants' Homes

By James Joiner

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

California affordable housing head is evicting 17 tenants from his own building to clear way for the construction of luxury condos.

Today, in bitter irony, the head of the California Housing Finance Agency, a state agency tasked with helping low- to moderate-income Californians find affordable housing, is being picketed by dozens of his own soon-to-be-evicted tenants, who are being forced out of rent-controlled apartments so he can rebuild them as luxury apartments.

CalHFA Chairman Matthew Jacobs, a Democrat, is also a real estate developer, and is invoking the state's controversial Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants if they plan to tear down buildings or get out of the landlord business entirely. Jacobs' plan is to demolish nine such residences in order to construct more-modern, four-story, condominiums with parking garages that will be sold at market value. Seventeen tenants will be displaced in the process.

"Here is a person who is supposed to be producing or helping get affordable housing get produced in the state actually knocking down existing affordable housing so he can profit off building luxury units," Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, told radio station KPCC.

The Ellis Act, which was enacted in 1986, has been increasingly used in housing-crushed California cities to get around rent-controlled protections. In 2014, landlords reportedly cleared out 725 apartments, up from 308 in 2013. Los Angeles has a staggeringly low 3.3% vacancy rate, which is lower even than New York City's, and experts say the city is about to hit a wall, with zoning for 4.2 million people and a current population of 3.9 million. With growing scarcity of housing causing values to constantly rise, financial pressure is on affordable-housing landlords to find a way out and cash in.

Jacobs' tenants protested by handing out fliers outside another development of his on Saturday afternoon, a five-unit luxury building with prices around $1.5 million, and in front of his home. They mourned not just the loss of their homes but of a neighborhood's community-centric way of life.

"We all talk to each other and look out for each other," Mandy Sherman told KPCC. "And all of my neighbors are getting evicted one by one."

One of the evictees, Karen Smalley, has lived in her home for 18 years.

"My home is being destroyed; it's incredibly heartbreaking to look at the walls I live in and know that we can't afford to stay in our neighborhood."

The CHFA said in a statement that Jacobs' decision is a private matter and as such they will not be getting involved, but did issue a statement praising him for "providing oversight on the implementation of financing and administrative programs to increase affordable rental housing throughout the state so more Californians have a place to call home."

Jacobs did not return a phone call or email requesting comment, but told multiple outlets in California that he plans to go forward with his plans.

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