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Housing and Homelessness

Hillside Villa Tenants Say LA Housing Department Not Moving Fast Enough To Protect Them From Eviction

Tenants and organizers from Hillside Villa -- a Chinatown low-income housing complex -- stage a protest outside Los Angeles Housing Department on March 7, 2023 against general manager Ann Sewill. Two protesters in the center hold a red banner that says "KEEP TENANTS IN THEIR HOMES. ANN SEWILL MUST GO!" A young Asian woman speaks into a microphone on their right. Other protesters holding posters surround them.
Hillside Villa tenants protest -- with support from organizers from Chinatown Community for Equitable Development -- outside the Los Angeles Housing Department offices. They say the department has not moved fast enough to purchase their building and keep rents affordable.
(Phoenix Tso
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Tenants of a Chinatown apartment complex have advocated for the city of Los Angeles to purchase their building for several years, after an agreement to keep rents affordable expired a few years ago.

Tenants say their rents have increased by as much as 300 percent since that agreement ended in 2019, right before the COVID-19 pandemic. They want the city to buy the building and keep rents low.

And in May last year, the L.A. City Council agreed to do so, authorizing the city's housing department to begin the process of purchasing Hillside Villa, which requires an appraisal of the property.

But tenants say the appraisal still has not been done. They say L.A. Housing Department General Manager Ann Sewill should move faster to purchase their building and keep rents affordable — or lose her job.

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Tenants and their supporters are afraid that they could become homeless once COVID eviction protections end after March 31.

In late February, building owner Tom Botz served five Section 8 tenants with eviction notices. In a statement to LAist, Botz claims these tenants "have not paid rent in going on three years now."

Trying to catch up

Rosasela Mora has lived at Hillside Villa for 13 years and is one of the renters who was served with a notice. She says she has been struggling to keep up with the rent for the last year.

"We're barely trying to catch up, and we get served with these notices," she said.

In a statement, the L.A. Housing Department says it has been unable to get the owner's consent to access Hillside Villa for an appraisal, and is seeking a court order to gain that access. Botz has confirmed his refusal to LAist.

Residents are fed up with the department and its director, Sewill.

"We want actions," Mora said. "And she has done nothing."

The housing department also said it does not have the power to stop lawful evictions. But if tenants owe back rent for COVID-related reasons, they must be given more time to pay "consistent with the law."

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