Boyle Heights renters reach deal with East L.A. development group

A group of Boyle Heights renters whose homes will be demolished to make way for a 50-unit affordable housing complex will be guaranteed the right to move into the project, activists said Tuesday.

Elizabeth Blaney, co-director of the advocacy group Union de Vecinos, said her organization reached an agreement with the East Los Angeles Community Corp., the nonprofit that's developing the Cielito Lindo apartment complex at First and Soto Streets.

In recent months, renters' rights advocates had accused the East L.A. nonprofit of gentrifying the neighborhood and disrupting the lives of tenants who have lived on the block for years. Under the agreement, tenants who want to come back in summer 2017 -- once construction is completed -- will not be barred even if they have credit troubles or earn too little, Blaney said.

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“We’d definitely like to see other developers use this right-of-return agreement to reduce displacement in communities where they’re building,” Blaney said.

The agreement will apply to about 17 households or about 50 people who are being forced to relocate so that the East L.A. nonprofit can build Cielito Lindo's first phase. However, it’s not clear what will happen to another eight tenants who would be forced out when construction starts on the project's 31-unit second phase.

Isela Gracian, head of the East Los Angeles Community Corp., said her organization would  assist the next batch of tenants. But she noted at least two households whose homes would be torn down for Cielito Lindo's second phase currently earn too much a year to qualify for an apartment in the new project.

“Moving tenants does interrupt their lives. And we do our best … on how can we do this in a way that has the least negative impact,” she said.

Under the law, each household in the project's first phase had been eligible for relocation packages worth a minimum of $19,500. They would be able to receive and keep the money even if they move into the new project. 

Gracian’s nonprofit has portrayed itself as a champion of renters, placing a banner on one of its projects with the phrase: “Boyle Heights says no to gentrification.” But the affordable housing developer also has a track record of moving tenants out as it builds its construction projects.

At another Boyle Heights development known as Las Margaritas, four out of eight affected households returned once construction was complete. At the renovated Boyle Hotel, three out of 42 households came back, according to the group.

At First and Soto, 11 out of 17 households being moved out for Cielito Lindo's first phase have already found new places to live, Gracian said. If those households want to come back, they will have to wait roughly 18 months.

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