LA TENANTS UNION: A Friendly Port in the Gentrification Storm

The Sanchez Family Versus Hipster Developers

webAUG19tenants1
The LA Tenants Union now has ten local chapters around the city. We are part of ongoing rent strikes, community protests, challenges to city officials, and much more, partnering with other organizations and operating on so many fronts that it’s difficult to name any “representative” effort.

While no single event captures the scope of work finished and work underway, a story in Venice illustrates the urgency of the tenants’ rights movement.

Tyler Wilson and his partner Joseph Pitruzzelli own the hipster Wurstküche restaurants. There are two locations: the first one in the Arts District that displaced artists from their studios and residences, and a Venice location that opened right next door to Patricia Sánchez and her family.

The Sánchezes have lived in their apartment for twenty-one years, and for both children this is the only home they’ve known. Patricia’s daughter attends Venice High. Her son, who lives with autism, has had the same medical/support team his whole life, just minutes away. Patricia herself is a well-known local leader, involved in the everyday lives of the vibrant Spanish-speaking community.

Even while Venice had been picked at by real estate vultures for the last decade, the Sánchez family successfully fought back against numerous eviction attempts from previous landlords. But then Wilson and Pitruzzelli bought the property in 2017. After initially harassing the family with illegal buy-out offers that they continually refused, they utilized the Ellis Act via their shadowy corporate entity Brick and Mortar, LLC.

The Ellis Act is a 1985 California law that allows property owners to carry out no-fault evictions against tenants in rent-stabilized units under the guise of temporary removal of units from the rental market. In practice, this law is used in bad faith in neighborhoods like Venice, where owners illegally convert Ellis properties into short-term Airbnb-type rentals while the city turns a blind eye.

webAug19tenants2The relocation fees required by Ellis are of little use in a gentrified market—eviction will force Patricia and her family to leave the neighborhood.

Asked by Curbed L.A. and Los Angeles Magazine why the owners of an upscale sausage restaurant were evicting this family from Venice, Wilson replied, “The fact that she can’t find housing—I feel for her. . . . I just don’t want to have a tenant. I don’t want to be a landlord.” Asked by a LATU member how he felt sending Patricia’s son away from his treatment, Wilson delivered, “Honestly, there’s a lot of situations out there in the world . . . Her circumstance is her circumstance, it’s not my circumstance.”

This is a perfect example of a business marketing its recent arrival in Venice as a sign of its cultural cache while evicting long-term Venice residents. Owners who buy a building with rent-stabilized tenants not wanting to have low-income or no tenants.

Because of the 1982 CA Mello Act— requiring preservation of affordable housing in coastal zones and limiting changes to residential uses—Brick and Mortar, LLC, may not even have the legal right to use that property for anything other than apartments! “Egregious” is hardly enough of a word, yet Patricia’s eviction moves ahead.

Thanks to lack of oversight of the Ellis Act—and real estate lobbyists still claiming it’s simply a way for Mom & Pop landlords to retire from the rental business—approximately 25,000 affordable apartments have been taken from the city’s housing stock since 2001, while homelessness increases and sharks like Wilson and Pitruzzelli profit.

The L.A. Tenants Union has called for a repeal of the Ellis Act since its founding—cases like this only underscore the point. In order to show these landlords that their actions are wrong, and to show solidarity with the Sánchez family, LATU and the Democratic Socialists of America L.A. have called for a citywide boycott of Wurstküche since February. Month after month since, dual protests have happened outside of both the Venice and Arts District locations and article after article have shared this story.

Even Councilmember Mike Bonin has come out against Wurstküche. In an emailed statement he wrote: "Last month, I sent a letter to Tyler Wilson urging him to rescind the eviction of the Sánchez family and making clear that kicking out this family will not allow him to avoid his obligation to provide affordable housing. This is about protecting a family that has worked hard and contributed to this community for more than 20 years. This is about protecting a family from tremendous hardship and the threat of homelessness. This is about saving Venice from becoming an affluent and exclusive enclave without a place for hard-working people like Patricia and her family. We cannot afford to lose more affordable housing in this neighborhood. We cannot stand by as families like Patricia's are kicked to the curb."

In late July, organizers planned a tent city outside of the Venice restaurant, reminding Wilson, Pitruzzelli, and any potential customers what really happens in an eviction crisis like L.A.’s. “We’re gonna spread the word far and wide that [they’re] kicking a poor family out of their home,” said LATU organizer Mairym Llorens at the beginning of the campaign—even in the face of defeat, Patricia has stood strong as part of a movement.

Families/tenants/Angelenos cannot allow their lives to be upended without a fight. As of writing, all signs point to eviction for the Sánchez family, even if the Mello Act demands that the property remain housing. Three lives totally uprooted because someone with more money and power didn’t want them around.

We shout “housing is a human right” because many don’t seem to know or believe it. We organize because this can’t continue.

References:

E. Chiland, “Activists target Wurstküche after restaurant owner issues eviction notice to family,” LA.Curbed.com

L. Nicholson, “The Wurstküche Weiner King is Trying to Evict a Venice Family for Profit,” Knock-LA.com

J. Woocher, “A brief (but 100% real) interview with vulture landlord Tyler Wilson,” Knock-LA.com

Westside Local of the L.A. Tenants Union, https://www.facebook.com/latuwestside/

The Mid-City Local of the LATU meets the first and third Wednesday of every month at Catch One, 4067 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles 90019, 7-9 PM.

www.latenantsunion.org


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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