By: Ve’ona Rogers, SAJE Tenant Leader
As a mother, lupus survivor, and activist I know the power of community. COVID-19 has shown us the many ways we are connected. This year, none of my neighbors have been able to avoid the effects of the pandemic and after months of uncertainty and hardships the strength of our family and leaning on our neighbors has helped my community survive. However, not everyone who has a stake in our building has an equal interest in maintaining our community. In the wake of COVID-19, the divide between corporate landowners and our communities is even greater.
In Los Angeles County, over 43% of residential rental units and more than 55% of multifamily units are directly owned by corporations. I’ve lived in South Central LA for my entire life, over 30 years. I’ve never owned property but I’ve invested a great deal in this city. As a young woman my father taught me that activism and pride for your community are one in the same. We didn’t wait for the city to clean trash out of the alley or plant trees on the street because as my father would say, “You’ve got two good eyes. If you see something needs to be done, you see to it yourself.” The actions you take to build your community are a direct reflection of your pride. When SoLA Rentals took over my building, I thought they would share the pride and care my neighbors invested in our community. It seemed SoLA’s interest in making a profit was matched by their desire to do good. However, after years of neglect SoLA has failed to do anything to distinguish itself from the many corporations vying for a piece of LA.
SoLA Rentals is not a force for community good. It is a business, a conglomeration of privately owned entities including SoLa Impact. SoLA companies collectively own and manage hundreds of properties across LA. They have a lengthy track record or tenant harassment, eviction, and habitability issues. Throughout the pandemic our elected leaders have put the burden of protecting our families and maintaining the health of the city on tenants. Even after providing landlords with a $100 million relief package, my neighbors were still being locked out of their homes and threatened with eviction from SoLA. Whether in meetings, making our voices heard through direct action or turning out to make public comments, we’ve had to fight for every protection.
SoLA Rentals claims to create high quality affordable housing and deliver superior financial returns. In truth, SoLA has dissolved our community by driving displacement. For the last 3 years, SoLA Rentals has aggressively pushed “cash for keys” offers to tenants. These bribes are almost exclusively made below the county relocation assistance rate and lead families into a cycle of displacement and eviction they’re unable to recover from.
SoLA Rentals business model creates success at the expense of elderly, disabled, and low-income residents. Through the years they’ve made profits by driving our most vulnerable neighbors from their homes. This business model isn’t unique to SoLA. Decades of anti-tenant legislation has created a housing market where putting profits over people is the norm. Still, SoLA’s actions against the community are especially egregious because they’ve chosen to position themselves as a community ally.
For many, SoLA Impact is a goodwill effort to bring economic opportunities and social programs to needy communities. To my neighbors and I, SoLA Impact is the great hypocrisy of South Central. SoLA acknowledges that 85% of their tenants come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Still, they’ve chosen to ignore our repair requests and subjected us to inhumane living conditions. On July 1, we conducted our first protest as a tenants’ union against SoLA Rentals and left over 20 notices to repair forms on the front door of their business. It was necessary after being ignored for so many years and symbolic of the courteousness that SoLA has shown us as neighbors during the pandemic. Instead of sitting down at the table with us they continued to leave eviction notices and ignore our request. As the holiday season winds closer many of my neighbors have seen no change in their living conditions.
SoLA claims to strive to prevent homelessness, break intergenerational poverty, create jobs, and help revitalize the underinvested communities of South LA but they’re failing to fulfill even their most basic responsibilities as building owners. No family should have to live in conditions that SoLA Rentals has subjected us to.
If SoLA Rentals truly wants to spread goodwill and improve our lives during this holiday season, they should move to cancel rent and cease collections on past due payments. Like other corporate landowners, SoLA Rentals has the bankroll and community funding to make choices that will positively affect our lives. No one who is actively putting families in the streets during a pandemic can claim to be a member of our community. If our communities are going to survive and make a full recovery after this global pandemic, it’s essential for landowners to be at the table with the communities they serve. We SoLA Tenants United call on SoLA Rentals to fulfill their commitment to us and be an example for all corporate owners of community land.