Chants of "Si, Se Puede" echoed through downtown as protesters descended upon real estate mogul Geoff Palmer's Medici Apartments Tuesday morning to rally support for an affordable housing proposition set to appear on the November ballot.
Members of Build Better LA—a coalition of community organizations spearheading Proposition JJJ—marched to the luxury apartments to protest Palmer, who they say is a symbol of the unfair development practices the proposition looks to address.
Palmer is a divisive figure in Los Angeles real estate. He is responsible for many recent downtown developments and has been fiercely criticized for his lawsuit overturning a city ordinance requiring developers to allocate units for low income tenants. His upscale apartment complexes, including Element and the Da Vinci Apartments, house a number of USC students.
Palmer is one of the largest individual donors to the Donald Trump campaign, giving $2 million to a pro-Trump PAC earlier this year.
"He builds incredibly beautiful apartment buildings but they have no benefit for the community," said Georgina Serrano, a protester and organizer with T.R.U.S.T. South LA, a community-based group advocating for affordable housing.
Serrano moved out of her apartment two years ago after she was unable to afford her rent and now stays with friends.
"I worked as a community educator for 20 years, but now I'm sleeping on a friend's couch," Serrano said. "It's a blessing, but it's also stressful. There are many people in my situation."
"My son lost his apartment so I had to bring him home with me," said Ira Thompson of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. "I'm out here to support the fact that there a lot of people in need and there are a lot of people not paying attention to their need."
Palmer's firm, G.H. Palmer Associates, declined to comment on the protest.
Proposition JJJ aims to create more low-income housing by requiring new developments of 10 units or more to ensure up to 20 percent of living spaces meet affordable housing requirements.
The Los Angeles Business Council, an opponent of the proposition, argued in a letter to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO that the 10-unit threshold is too low and will make it difficult for developers to build small and medium size complexes, which are often rented by low-income tenants.
"We are concerned these new mandates would deter future housing development in Los Angeles, a result which would be counterproductive to the goals that BBLA seeks to achieve – more affordable housing development and much-needed, high-paying jobs for the local workforce," the LABC said.
Members of the Build Better LA Coalition respond by arguing that low-income residents are being forced out of their homes and need more affordable options now.
"This is happening right now everyday anyway," said Alejandro Dobie-Gonzales, a member of the Strategic Actions for a Just Economy. "What we're trying to do is help relieve rental market pressures on existing buildings that are seeing rent increases."
In March, citizens of Los Angeles will also vote on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, another housing measure that would impose a two-year hold on development in high density areas in LA.
"If there's a moratorium on development, people are still going to have to pay for rent and that's going to raise the competition more and more," said Dobie-Gonzales. "There would be more displacement from that."