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CES In The News
Los Angeles CityBeat
Thursday May 1, 2008
Paved Paradise
Meet Your Newest Parking Lot
By  Daryl Paranada

This Image Did Not Appear in the Original Version of this Article
In the northwest corner of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where the 618 South Hobart apartment complex lay, sits a vacant parking lot. Gone from that quiet street are the 21 units of that two-story complex, which the temple owned. Gone is another rent-controlled apartment from the Los Angeles skyline, and in its place is pavement.

The final chapter of the South Hobart complex story begins in August 1999, when the temple sold the complex for $565,000. Nobody knew what would happen nearly seven years later. In November 2006, the temple repurchased the complex for $2.6 million. A few months later, in January, they sent notices to the tenants of the complex notifying them of eviction via the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to take buildings out of the rental market under a set of strict requirements. Almost a year after the last tenants had moved out of the complex, the building was gone.

"Chris Smith" says half of her former neighbors moved out of the complex immediately, some because they didn't want to deal with the hassle, others because they did not understand what they were entitled to, and a few left because of the promises made by the consulting company hired by the temple: Shober Consulting. Smith says tenants were verbally promised $500 by the consulting firm for each month they left before the scheduled eviction date. That money never materialized.

"They are eviction expediters. They very often offer additional relocation money, provide Westside Rentals listings, but they don't represent the tenants. They're paid by the landlord who wants the tenants out," says Teresa Feldman, a former temple member who advocates on behalf of the South Hobart residents and who serves on her community's neighborhood council.

"We did provide relocation funds well in excess of statutory requirements," says Howard Kaplan, the temple's executive director.

One advocate for raising the relocation fees was Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival
, a grassroots community-based organization dedicated to organizing low and moderate income people in their quest for economic and social justice. Gross was one of the first people the tenants met with when they decided to fight to get higher relocation fees.

"I told them that they needed to organize and appeal to the temple that they were impacting the tenants' lives directly," says Gross. "The temple was contributing to our affordable housing crisis by demolishing 20-something-odd rent controlled affordable units in the city."

Negotiations with the temple led to higher relocation fees for tenants who remained. Smith, who received the higher relocation fees, broke a mediated confidentiality agreement because she says the matter needed to be exposed and the behavior of the temple examined. "Forcing us out of our homes so they could have a parking lot?" asks Smith. "What they did is not social justice. By the time we got organized, half the tenants were gone. At that point all the half of us who got organized could ask for was the new relocation amounts and more time."

"It's one of the saddest things," says Feldman, a kindergarten teacher whose family left the temple after more than six years. "[My husband and I] talked to the temple. We said, 'You can't kick these people out, they have nowhere to go. They'll be competing at the same time for the single apartments that exist in L.A.' "

Feldman and her family eventually chose to leave the oldest reform synagogue in Los Angeles because of what they believe was poor treatment of the people who lived in those units. "The sad thing," Feldman says, "is they didn't really seem to understand that an extra $10,000 to someone who is a waitress who works two jobs or a street musician who plays banjo at the La Brea tar pits or a retired worker or a couple with a new baby, can change their lives."

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder says the temple does have plans to expand, though the parking lot where the complex used to sit remains empty and cars cannot park on the lots closest to the temple. Leder says $5 million in pledges will help build a social services facility, which will feed, clothe and provide basic medical services for hundreds of people. "I consider that to be a socially responsible use of the property," says Leder.

The temple is currently in the planning stages of its development, but will open modules for a temporary nursery school in the parking lot this fall. Eventually, they hope what will sit on the empty parking lot, in addition to their nursery school, is a parent center and social services building.

The temple says it will continue to help the poor and needy by opening up their food pantry each week, assisting the local community through work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity to build homes, and reaching out to people through events like co-sponsoring the recent Earth Day Festival.

For CES'
Gross, the loss of the South Hobart complex points to a bigger problem with housing in the L.A. region. "We're facing probably the nation's worst affordable housing crisis," says Gross. "Sixty-one percent of L.A. residents are renters and about a third of our housing stock is overcrowded. About a third of our housing stock is substandard. Wages aren't keeping pace with rising rents. And in that backdrop over the last several years, from 2001 to about 2007, we lost 15,000 rent controlled units due to demolitions and condo conversions.

"This housing crisis, especially the demolitions and condo conversions, have reached up into the middle class," says Gross. "Now we're seeing nurses and hotel works and clerks and bus drivers and firefighters and janitors, essentially the people who make L.A. run, are being run out of L.A. and if this isn't addressed we're going to end up seeing something that will diminish L.A.'s strength and beauty --- its diversity."

For the former residents of the South Hobart complex, the idea that the temple is building facilities to help the poor offers little consolation.

"The Wilshire Boulevard Temple Board of Directors tore up a community of individuals and demolished 22 units of moderate and affordable housing that sat right on top of the Purple Line and the Wilshire Boulevard Transit Corridor," says Smith. "A handful of the people were able to stay in the neighborhood. The rest are gone. Gone to places like the Philippines, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Eagle Rock, and Atwater Village. In our place? A parking lot.

"Maybe in five years they will build a nursery school, but in the meantime we were evicted by a parking lot."

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