Only hours after being evicted from their apartments, a group of tenants of the Lincoln Place apartments in Venice expressed their frustrations at a meeting of the Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association, where Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addressed Del Rey community members.
Tenants from 52 apartment units at Lincoln Place were locked out of their apartments Tuesday, December 6th, when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department acted on court-ordered evictions requested by Lincoln Place owner Apartment Investment and Management Company (AIMCO).
The evictions forced the tenants in the 52 units to quickly gather as much as they could of their belongings to put into storage and find shelter with friends and family.
“We’re in shock,” said Clare Sassoon, a 12-year Lincoln Place resident who was evicted along with her husband and 15-year-old daughter. “This is devastating for our family.
“We’ve been rushing around trying to find housing and have been staying at a friend’s house.”
Sheila Bernard, Lincoln Place Tenants Association president, said many of the tenants expected AIMCO to return to the “negotiating table” before acting on the evictions.
The Lincoln Place apartment complex, bounded by Penmar Avenue and Lake and Frederick Streets in Venice, was constructed on a 38-acre parcel in 1951.
Denver-based AIMCO plans to redevelop the garden-style complex and began using the state Ellis Act in March to evict remaining tenants.
Some tenants claim the company use of the Ellis Act — which allows landlords to go out of the rental business — is illegal, but AIMCO officials have insisted that the use is legal.
Approximately 80 households of either disabled or senior tenants at Lincoln Place have been allowed to remain in their apartments until March under the Ellis Act.
While the evicted tenants are trying to find a place to stay wherever they can, they are also just trying to “get back on their feet,” Bernard said.
“The overall feeling is that a great injustice has been done to them and they will fight,” said Bernard, who is one of the tenants allowed to stay until March.
Several of the evicted tenants and other Lincoln Place representatives took their complaints directly to the mayor at the Del Rey Homeowners meeting.
The tenants brought with them handmade signs protesting the evictions and stood in the back of the Marina del Rey Middle School all-purpose room, wanting to express their frustrations to the mayor first hand.
“At this point in time any place that someone in government is at we need to appear,” said Bill Chappelle, a five-year Lincoln Place tenant who can stay until March.
The tenants made an appearance to ask for the mayor’s help and “bring a higher level of awareness” to the situation at Lincoln Place, Chappelle said.
“If we can mobilize enough public support, then people will recognize that something is wrong here,” he said.
But some of the Del Rey community members felt that the appearance of the Lincoln Place representatives shifted the focus of their meeting, which was primarily intended for the mayor to address the Del Rey community and its issues for the first time.
“We were extremely proud and grateful to have the mayor visit us and up until the point the meeting was commandeered [by the Lincoln Place tenants], he shared some good thoughts and information,” Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association president Chris Nevil said.
“As much as we sympathize with the visitors, it was unfortunate that they had to use our forum to press their issue,” Nevil said.
The Del Rey Homeowners Association had been anticipating the mayor’s appearance after he had to reschedule his November 1st appearance in order to speak at the funeral for Rosa Parks in Detroit.
Nevil said it was the first time in recent memory that a mayor has addressed the Del Rey community and many residents were eager to have their questions posed to Villaraigosa.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice and Del Rey in the 11th District, was also in attendance to introduce the mayor. Earlier in the day Rosendahl went to Lincoln Place to denounce the evictions.
“These evictions are a travesty, an injustice and a great shame,” he said at the apartment complex.
Some audience members said they were unable to have their questions addressed because of the presence of the Lincoln Place tenants, which shifted the attention away from Del Rey issues.
“I’m really upset and disappointed,” said Don Dombrowski, a 20-year Del Rey resident. “I had a lot of concerns for the Del Rey community for the mayor to address. I felt shortchanged.”
Dombrowski said he was upset that people who are not members of the Del Rey community “took over the meeting.”
“The only reason they’re fighting is because they’re paying cheap rent by the beach,” he asserted.
Some of the Lincoln Place tenants shouted out comments during Villaraigosa’s speech, interrupting him at times, but Nevil said the mayor “showed tremendous compassion” for the tenants’ situation.
As Villaraigosa began to talk about his first five months in office, he acknowledged the presence of the Lincoln Place visitors, and said both his and Rosendahl’s staffs “spent a lot of hours trying to resolve this situation at Lincoln Place.”
While some audience members continued to press questions regarding the evictions during the mayor’s speech, Villaraigosa reaffirmed his sympathies for the tenants’ position.
“I understand that you’re upset,” the mayor told the tenants. “There’s a lot of people who you can be upset at but I’m not one of them.”
One Lincoln Place guest questioned the involvement by city officials in trying to stop the evictions, but Villaraigosa asserted, “We were involved.”
“Mr. Rosendahl and I and our staff attempted to negotiate a number of cases and we got two extensions on the evictions, but unfortunately (AIMCO) has certain rights under the law to evict,” the mayor said.
When the mayor alluded to the fact that the tenants refused a proposed settlement between the tenants and AIMCO, in which 242 units would have been preserved for tenants to pay below-market rent for life, the statement was met with a resounding, “That’s not true.”
One Lincoln Place tenant summarized the message of the group at the meeting when he told the mayor, “We need your help, that’s what we’re really saying.”
Villaraigosa responded by saying that the city will continue making an effort to work with AIMCO on the negotiations.
Although the Del Rey community members understood the situation of the Lincoln Place guests, some audience members criticized the Venice residents’ approach to the mayor.
Tom Ponton, Mar Vista Community Council chair, who was also at the meeting, said, “You have to expect” that a meeting may not go as planned when the mayor is in attendance and there is an issue like Lincoln Place.
Chappelle acknowledged that it was the intention of the tenants “to be a little bit of an irritant” in getting their message across to the mayor, but they were not at the meeting to disrupt.
“We were there to be cooperative, not disruptive,” he said.
The Lincoln Place tenants understand that the Del Rey residents may be upset at their appearance at the meeting, but the loss of affordable housing is an issue that affects Del Rey as well, Chappelle said.
“We were not there to take away from them,” Chappelle said.
“It was not our intention and we extend our apologies, but our lives have been disrupted and we need their support as a community,” the Lincoln Place tenant said.