Former evicted tenants call Lincoln Place home again
By Vince Echavaria
Tony Murphy always felt that his one true home in California was at Lincoln Place in Venice.
A native of West Virginia, Murphy spent 18 years as a resident of the 38-acre garden style apartment complex before he and more than 80 other tenants were locked out of their homes in 2005 in what is considered the largest eviction lockout in a single day in Los Angeles history.
It was a place where Murphy recalled memories of his sons growing up and kids playing, and where most of the people he came to know in Southern California were based.
“Lincoln Place was the only place I ever lived in California; this was my California home,” said Murphy, a longtime teacher at Santa Monica College.
“All the people I knew in California other than at my job or at the gym were at Lincoln Place. This was my community.”
So, when Murphy learned that many former tenants would have the chance to return to the complex just east of Lincoln Boulevard due to a 2010 settlement between the city of Los Angeles and the property owner, he said it was virtually an automatic decision that he would be back. Tenants had been evicted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department lockout as property owner AIMCO Venezia LLC sought to redevelop the complex that was built shortly after World War II and once housed 795 units.
The settlement ratified by the City Council ended litigation and allowed for the return of up to 83 former households at pre-eviction rental rates, as well as the restoration of 696 vacant apartments, including 668 “historic eligible units,” to market as rent-controlled units. City officials said the deal marked the largest ever restoration of rent-stabilized housing to the city’s rental market.
Under the agreement, AIMCO can also construct up to 99 new units that are not subject to the rent control law. The settlement provides for the historic character of Lincoln Place, which was built to house veterans returning from World War II, to be maintained, according to the parties.
When Doug Eisenstark received word that past tenants could come back, he said he was “full-steam ahead” and ready to move that day. He joined Murphy and a number of other residents who began to move back into rehabilitated units in May.
Part of what makes Lincoln Place a wonderful place to live is its style of architecture and history of providing affordable housing and homes for veterans returning from war, he said. It was in that spirit that Eisenstark said he and others kept fighting for the right to return there.
“It’s like a piece of art on its own,” Eisenstark said of the design of the residences. “It’s really a place that you could live the rest of your life; it’s so nice.”
One of the best things about making a home at Lincoln Place for Jeffrey Nash is that he can be back on the Westside again, closer to the beach.
“I love living on the Westside. It’s an amazing place to be,” said Nash, who was a 12-year resident prior to the evictions and rented a room from his mother in Glendale the past several years. “Being able to be this close to the ocean and be able to ride my bike has been huge. The whole beach life is magical.”
Aside from the property’s ideal location, Nash said he also values the design of the residential complex, which is laid out in an older style that offers a sense of privacy. Nash said he was in disbelief about returning until he signed his rental agreement, and because there was uncertainty about the future of the complex for many years, he also had feelings of relief.
Attorney Amanda Seward, who was involved in the effort to halt the redevelopment and was successful in getting Lincoln Place listed on the state Register of Historic Resources, says she is gratified to see that former tenants are moving back to their homes.
“It’s very, very rewarding. For me it’s a way of ensuring for Venice’s history that it will continue to provide decent for-rent housing to the market,” said Seward, who is now a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council.
“It’s very seldom in life that we get a chance to fight for what we believe in and see it work and I think this could have only happened in Venice.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who vividly recalls the day dozens of residents were locked out of their apartments in his first year in office, also feels gratification that the settlement has enabled many of them to again make Lincoln Place their home, said Mike Bonin, the councilman’s chief of staff.
“Since even before taking office, Bill has championed the interests and concerns of the tenants of Lincoln Place. He has referred to their eviction as a ‘day of infamy,’ and has repeatedly insisted on their right to return to their homes,” Bonin said.
“He is grateful a settlement agreement was reached that provided for their return, and will be working closely with the tenants and their attorneys to make sure that AIMCO honors both the letter and the spirit of that agreement.”
Murphy remembered how he became homeless for the first time in his life on the day of the evictions and was worried about finding another affordable place to live so that his youngest son could go to school. He found a one-bedroom apartment for slightly higher rent but knew that if Lincoln Place ever became an option again, he would jump on it.
Murphy is now living in a two-bedroom apartment and he is elated with the way it is set up. He praised the property owner for the remodels that have been made.
“I’m in heaven,” Murphy said after moving in.
He noted that residents are still trying to work with the landlord regarding some policies and regulations from prior leases that are not included in the new leases but they are hopeful an agreement can be made.
Some residents have expressed a lingering anxiety because of the past evictions and there have been some concerns with new rules related to leashes on pets and the use of barbeque grills but such issues may take some time to be worked out.
“There are still some growing pains but I think on the whole, people are glad to be back and are doing well,” said Sheila Bernard, the former president of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association who no longer lives at the complex.
Nash has been pleased with the improvements done to the Venice complex and does not feel impacted by new rules that may be enforced, noting that the transition has gone pretty smoothly. Most of all, he is proud to be a Westsider again.
“There is a certain sense that it’s almost like I never left,” he said. “Being back on the Westside seems so natural.”