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May 28, 2015

Tenants Protest Evictions in Front of State Housing Chair's Home

89.3 KPCC - Kristen Lepore


Karen Smalley and Steven Luftman have lived in a rent-controlled apartment in West Hollywood for 18 years. Through the Ellis Act, they're being evicted so their landlord can make way for taller condos. Kristen Lepore

Renters who are being evicted from a Beverly Grove apartment held a protest on Wednesday in front of the home of their landlord — a man who also happens to be chairman of California’s Housing and Finance Agency.

Matthew Jacobs plans to demolish nine rent-controlled units on Flores Avenue to build taller four-story condominiums with parking garages. The new plans include eleven single family units that will be sold at market value. Residents say this will displace 17 tenants.

Jacobs also has plans to demolish rent-controlled units in the Fairfax District to make way for eight condos.

As the face of the state's housing authority, Jacobs shouldn't be taking affordable housing off the market, said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival.

"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," he said.

Jacobs is using the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to get out of the rental business and evict tenants as long as they either sell, convert to condominiums or let the property sit vacant. Ellis Act evictions are on the rise, according to the L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department. Landlords cleared out 725 apartments in 2014, compared to 308 the year before.

Jacobs told KPCC his development will add units to the housing market — and he’s not changing his plans.

Mandy Sherman lives one block from the building slated for demolition. She said her neighborhood is a dying breed.

"We all talk to each other and look out for each other," she said. "And all of my neighbors are getting evicted one by one."

Karen Smalley moved from New York to Flores Street 18 years ago. She pays under $2,000 in rent for the two-bedroom apartment. She said renters should have more rights.

"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," she said.

A spokesperson for the California Housing Finance Agency said this is a private matter, and the agency won't be getting involved.

"As the chairman of the CalHFA Board, Mr. Jacobs has fully supported the mission of the Agency by 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,” wrote Melissa Flores in a statement from the agency.

Protesters said they’ll be asking Gov. Jerry Brown to remove Jacobs from his board position.

Correction: This article originally stated that Jacobs' apartments are in West Hollywood. We regret the error.



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