Over the past 12 hours, I have been thinking about whether I have anything to add to the discussion / controversy kicked off by our now-infamous bike -tour flyer.
This blog, which is usually read by a few thousand people interested in investing in LA real estate, is suddenly getting a lot of attention from people who are not investors but are, instead, citizens concerned about the impact of gentrification on their neighborhood.
I’m no philosopher, so I don’t have much to add to the ethical debate. Nor am I a social-scientist who can reduce this issue to a spreadsheet problem to be analyzed and solved.
What I am is someone who knows an awful lot about real estate in improving areas. So, I thought I might offer my new readers something a bit more practical: Some tips for surviving the gentrification of your neighborhood.
Keep in mind when you’re reading these that I make no claim to understand exactly how you feel. I can’t know the forces and obstacles you and your family face in your lives, because I don’t come from where you come from. All I can do is share with you some basic knowledge in hopes of either setting your mind at ease about your situation or else giving you a roadmap for how to try.
1. If you rent, you need to rent in a Rent Stabilized Building
The City of Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance (“RSO”) gives tenants and their children the right to remain in their apartments permanently with limited annual rent increases, so long as they pay rent and don’t destroy the apartment. If you live in an apartment covered by the RSO, congratulations. It is very difficult for anyone to force you to move out and, if they try, you will very likely be able to extract a significant amount of money from them (if you decide you do want to move), money which can change your life (see below).
However, many people don’t understand which buildings are covered by the RSO and which are not. Here’s how it works:
- RSO covers all multi-unit dwellings (that means two or more dwelling units on one piece of land) where the structure was constructed prior to the October of 1978;
- The RSO does not cover apartment buildings built after October 1978;
- The RSO does not cover single family home rentals
If you or your family live in Boyle Heights and you would like to stay in the neighborhood, you need to make absolutely certain that the building in which you live is covered by the RSO. If you don’t know, ask the Housing Department.
If it turns out that your building is not covered, you need to move to one that is, even if moving is scary and even if the new place is more expensive. If you’re not protected by the RSO, you are always 60 days from being thrown out of your home (that’s the length of the notice a landlord has to give you to move out). I know that’s terrifying and possibly morally wrong, but it’s how the law works and you need to protect yourself and your family.
2. Consider trying to buy
For many people, the idea of buying a home seems totally unattainable, particularly after what happened in 2008-2011, when so many people got burned. But the federal government is strongly committed to helping people buy homes. The government mainly helps by running the FHA program, through which buyers with credit scores as low as the mid 500s can buy a home or small apartment building with as little as 3.5% down.
In Boyle Heights, where you can buy a home for $300,000, that would mean you could do it with as little as $10,500. I recognize that seems like a huge amount of money for someone working an hourly job. But it’s also the case that the FHA allows people to get help with the downpayment from family and (sometimes) from the seller.
If you live in Boyle Heights, have decent credit, and can scrape together a downpayment, you should strongly consider buying a home. That way, you and your family benefit from continued improvement in the neighborhood, instead of being threatened by it.
3. Participate in your neighborhood council
Plenty of people got angry enough about our flyer to write mean things about me on Facebook, but will those people attend the neighborhood council meetings where decisions about development get made? If you don’t think your community has power, you’re wrong. Anyone who wants to build anything complicated in Boyle Heights is eventually going to need to come down to those meetings and make the case for why she should be allowed to do so.
If you really care, you should consider going, learning and speaking your mind. Our democracy is imperfect, but people do have a voice if they care enough to use it.
If you are worried about your family getting pushed out of Boyle Heights and want some practical advice, I would be happy to discuss.
For example, if you let me know your address, I can let you know if your home is protected by the RSO or not. Or, if you think your family might be able to pull together the money to buy a home but you have no idea how to get started, I can point you towards some relevant resources / people.
Want help or advice? Just email me. It’s kind of the least I can do, after causing so much distress.