LAist/KPCC Investigation 'Stuck' Honored With 2 Online Journalism Awards

(Dan Carino for LAist)

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The LAist/KPCC investigative reporting project Stuck has won two Online Journalism Awards from the Online News Association. Investigative and data reporter Aaron Mendelson took a deep look at California's housing crisis, uncovering a sweeping rental empire connected to landlord Mike Nijjar. The project was honored with awards for investigative journalism and for audio storytelling.

Stuck revealed shoddy living conditions for tenants hanging onto the bottom rung of Southern California's housing market, from cockroaches and bedbugs in tenants' homes to the health and safety code violations that led to the death of a 5-month-old girl in a trailer park fire. One tenant interviewed by Mendelson was later shot and killed in the parking lot of his complex.

Mendelson uncovered the story by analyzing eviction data, ultimately identifying more than 170 businesses connected to Nijjar representing at least 16,000 units and $1.3 billion in real estate. A team of reporters and editors worked to turn the reporting into a vivid digital story with searchable database of properties and an hourlong radio documentary. KPCC/LAist journalists reviewed thousands of pages of court filings and interviewed dozens of tenants.

"This investigation underscores how critical it is to have strong local journalism. It's only through Aaron's dogged reporting that this story came to light," said KPCC/LAist executive editor Megan Garvey. "He was combing through massive amounts of eviction data when he started to notice a pattern in names — and pulling that thread ultimately led to a powerful examination of how and why these conditions continue to go unchecked."

Nijjar remains in business. You can read the full investigation here, and six of the key takeaways here.

Listen to the full audio investigation:

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With contributions from Mike Roe