A group of tenants’ rights advocates have occupied a dozen state-owned vacant homes in El Sereno, in a move designed to address California’s two most urgent crises: homelessness and now the coronavirus.
The houses are among 460 acquired by the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, years ago in preparation for an extension of the 710 freeway, according to the Los Angeles Times. The freeway plan was ultimately abandoned in the face of intense local opposition.
Since then, many of the homes have been rented out at bargain rates and, more recently, the state has made halting efforts to sell them to former owners or current tenants at market rates.
This week’s takeover of the dozen Eastside homes was organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a group that campaigns for rent control and expansions of tenants’ rights. Local spokesmen for the group said they were inspired by a group of homeless Oakland mothers who have moved into a vacant commercial property there, and have been allowed to remain.
The El Sereno squatters said they, too, plan to remain in the homes indefinitely.
Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have declined to move against the El Sereno squatters or to comment on the tactic. In the Oakland case, Newsom has taken steps to force the occupied property’s corporate owner to sell the property to a community land trust.
Ruby Gordillo, who has moved into one of the El Sereno homes along with her three children, told the Times this week that, “With this health crisis and this housing crisis, we need every vacant house to be a home for those who don’t have a safe and stable place to sleep in.”
In Sacramento, meanwhile, a group of lawmakers has demanded that Newsom make the Caltrans-owned Eastside and South Pasadena homes available for occupancy by the homeless. The state agency so far has made no moves to evict the squatters. [LAT] — Tina Daunt