Los Angeles City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo Wednesday accused the owner of a Chinatown apartment complex he is seeking to have the city acquire of failing to abide by an agreement to not raise rents or evict tenants.
The owner of the Hillside Villa Apartments was loaned almost $5.5 million about 30 years ago in order to provide subsidized housing and construct the facility. That agreement has expired, and Cedillo said he negotiated an agreement with Tom Botz, the owner of the apartments, in exchange for no evictions and no rent increases or other displacement of tenants for 10 years.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Botz reneged on this agreement and will raise rents on these apartments to the market rate in September 2020,” Cedillo said. “In the times of a housing and homelessness crisis, this is not acceptable.”
Cedillo filed a motion Friday to have the city attempt to acquire the complex through eminent domain, the process in which governments make market-rate offers for properties and have a court adjudicate the property title to the government, typically in order to build infrastructure or in emergency situations.
Calls to representatives for Botz were not immediately returned, but in August, Botz said the city hadn’t offered enough when it first attempted to enter into an agreement with Hillside Villa, though Cedillo disputed that the price was unfair in his statement.
“These are tenants who have been there forever and should be subsidized,” Botz told City News Service at the time. “The city has not (agreed to the money) that they said they would, and we’re still talking regularly with the city, but there’s no agreement as of now.”
Since the contract was never finalized, the offer Cedillo made was not publicly available.
Because the agreement dissolved, Cedillo said his motion, which was filed on Friday, asks city staff to provide recommendations in 30 days to acquire the Hillside Villa Apartments through eminent domain.
The motion also asks for a report on using eminent domain to acquire other housing developments with affordable housing covenants that are nearing expiration.
“We are not going to build enough affordable housing units fast enough to meet the overwhelming demand,” Cedillo said.
The Hillside Villa Apartments is a 124-unit affordable housing development, located at 636 N. Hill Place. In August, Cedillo reported about half of the units were slated to have their rents increased significantly.
Representatives of the L.A. Tenants Union said in August that the rents at Hillside Villa vary from unit to unit. Some tenants have lived there about 30 years and have been protected by the covenants, paying as little as $700 a month.