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Affordable housing as endangered species

Times Staff Writer

First came the hints that Veronica Rincon’s landlady would drop when she collected rent. Had Rincon found a new place to live yet? Because the machines were coming in a couple of months to destroy her home.

Rincon, 35, was worried. The house she shares with her husband and three young daughters in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles might be cramped and a bit rundown. But it is all they could afford. And her landlady was talking about leveling it to make way for new development.

Then in March came the sledgehammer: a notice giving the family until mid-July to leave.

Rincon was at a loss. Rent at nearby apartments was double, sometimes triple, what the family paid. What could she do? “I don’t know,” she mumbled in Spanish.

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Rincon’s plight reflects a dearth of affordable housing in Los Angeles, activists say. On Thursday, a coalition of affordable housing advocates released a list of 100 buildings in the area -- Rincon’s among them -- that they say are in danger of being replaced by condominiums or new apartments far beyond the reach of low- and middle-income residents.

The tenants coalition is asking Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to preserve the buildings on the list. It also is asking the City Council to require developers to include affordable housing in all new residential buildings and to pass a moratorium on conversions of apartments and residential hotels to condos.

The coalition plans a march to City Hall on Wednesday to highlight its demands.

Property owners and developers, however, say they have the right to realize a profit from their investments and warn that city restrictions could discourage people from going into the rental business, thus worsening the housing crunch.

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The City Council recently doubled and tripled the relocation fees that developers must pay to tenants who are evicted when their units are converted into condos.

But housing advocates say that measure isn’t enough, especially as rents continue to rise. The average monthly rent in the area climbed 1.5% in the first quarter of 2007, to $1,588, according to RealFacts, a Novato, Calif., company that tracks rents in 15 Western states.

About 12,000 apartments in the city have been razed or converted to condos since 2001, and many have been replaced with high-priced units, activists said.

“We can’t afford to live in them,” Alvivon Hurd, chairwoman of the housing commission for the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now in Los Angeles, said in a morning press conference. “But we have to come here to keep them clean, to do their yards, to wash their floors.”

Organizers held the news conference in front of a two-story apartment on Bixel Street that tenants said was in danger of being destroyed.

Two doors down, construction workers scrambled up wooden scaffolding -- the beginnings of a new higher-priced apartment complex.

Some of the 40 or so people in attendance held up notices of eviction from their landlords. Tenants and coalition leaders pledged in English and Spanish to mobilize to hold city officials accountable. “We’re on the move,” Hurd said to cheers from onlookers.

It’s a movement that Rincon hopes has not come too late. For eight years, her family has lived in the one-bedroom house off North Eastern Avenue. Its $545-a-month rent is affordable on the roughly $3,000 her construction-worker husband earns each month.

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Rincon appreciates the neighborhood’s proximity to Farmdale Elementary School -- about a block away -- and it’s quiet. There are no gangs and no gunshots.

If she has to leave, Rincon said through a translator, she wants to find an apartment nearby. She has asked around to see whether anyone knows of a place that costs about the same.

“It seems,” she said, “pretty much impossible.”

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charles.proctor@latimes.com


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