Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Alexandria landlord slapped by judge

From the LA Times:

A federal judge has found that the city of Los Angeles allowed more than 100 poor and disabled people to be improperly evicted from a downtown residential hotel slated for redevelopment.

Judge Margaret M. Morrow issued a preliminary injunction last week ordering the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to locate dozens of the now potentially homeless people and pay them relocation funds.

She also ordered the owner of the Alexandria to make the building habitable for the remaining 100-plus tenants, many of whom are elderly and disabled.

The ruling is the latest turn in a long-running battle over redevelopment downtown. It marks a victory for the homeless and their advocates, whose claims that hotel owners were treating them badly fell on deaf ears in city government for months.


The Alexandria, a stately building at 5th and Spring streets, was built 102 years ago as a luxury hotel. Its architect, John Parkinson, also designed such notable buildings as Los Angeles City Hall, Union Station and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

For a time, the hotel, with its Tiffany skylight, was the most glamorous in all Los Angeles. But by the 1980s, as downtown fell on hard times, the beaux-arts revival landmark had become a weekly rate residential hotel, serving as housing of last resort for hundreds of disabled people.

In 2006, as gentrification was sweeping through downtown and lofts began to transform old buildings, developer Ruben Islas and partners purchased the building and began renovating it.

Islas, who specializes in low-income and senior housing, pledged to keep the building as affordable housing and received funds from the CRA and the federal government to help pay for the rehab.

Soon, however, many long-time tenants of the building, organized by homeless advocacy groups such as the Community Action Network, began accusing developers of waging an illegal campaign to get them out and replace them with wealthier clientele.

They claimed that the water and elevators were shut off for days at a time, destroying their quality of life and leaving the disabled among them stranded upstairs without potable water or flushing toilets.

The Los Angeles City Council and the CRA board declined to step in, despite the parade of residents in wheelchairs urging them to do something.

Islas denied the charges and accused his critics of sabotaging work at the Alexandria by turning off the water and disrupting service on an elevator.

Last fall, residents filed a lawsuit charging that Islas and his partners "systematically and intentionally worked to remove the long-term tenants of the Alexandria and replace them with non-elderly, non-disabled and non-African American tenants."

The lawsuit, which seeks damages, is set for trial next year.

If you look at the Alexandria's website, it definitely seems as if they are trying to get lofties into the building (check out this photo, which, trust me, does not resemble anyone who currently lives in the hotel).

This situation truly sucks because there are so many buildings in this area that can be developed without displacing people (the building I live in, and most of the buildings in the area, were vacant before they were developed into lofts). One of the things I love about downtown (despite my over-reaction to the Hayward shooting) is that it is economically diverse in a way that you see a lot in New York but don't see much in LA. The SRO residents were here first, and if they lose their housing, they have no place to go but the street. Plus there are plenty of empty buildings/lots that can be developed, so why push out people who really need their homes?


Anonymous said...

i am considering moving to this building. Single woman early 30's. i know this area looks kinda ruff, is it safe??

Li said...

You may want to check out my husband's post on crime in the neighborhood:

Re: the Alexandria, there are a lot of guards present in the lobby and it seems to be well-run, but I can't tell you how safe it is for residents. So far I haven't had any problems parking there, other than the inconvenience.

Good luck with your move!