“There’s never been a better time to build,” says Blackstone, the largest commercial landlord group in America.
But long-time residents of East Los Angeles neighborhoods say otherwise.
“La vivienda es un derecho humano. Housing is a human right.”
“No community benefit, no investment. Keep families home. Blackstone = Homelessness.”
These were just a few of the signs raised by a crowd of tenant protestors as they gathered in Currie Hall, a student housing building at the USC Health Sciences Campus on Wednesday.
The protest, organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment L.A. (ACCE Action), consisted of tenant demands for affordable housing and an outcry against displacement in the neighborhoods surrounding USC, particularly in East L.A., where the HSC campus is located.
“Lincoln Heights completely opposes USC development,” Pamela Agustin, Coalition Director of the East Side LEADS, said at the protest. “We cannot live with erasure. Lincoln Heights is not for sale.”
In the lobby resembling a modern hotel with luxury amenities, the protestors expressed their frustrations with USC housing developments that they said have increasingly encroached into their community.
“The problem that we’re having with USC is that they’re building extremely expensive dormitories for students,” South L.A. resident Maria Briones said. “But most people like me, we are fixed-income or low-income families that have been displaced from their living places because the properties have gone up so high and the rents as well.”
On an income of less than $650 a month, Briones said she worries that as rent becomes increasingly unaffordable, she’ll be the next person to lose her home. She is facing eviction.
“Next year or maybe in a few months, I’ll be out on the street,” Briones said. “We have been pressured to live on the street and that’s not fair.”
Briones has lived in L.A. for 35 years and considers the city her permanent home.
“It is my home. It is part of my heart. It is part of my story,” she said. “They’re raising the prices of the rent, but they’re also destroying part of history in L.A. They have destroyed so many homes that have been here more than 100 years.”
Her story, like many others, is a chapter in the long history of gentrification in L.A.
The number of gentrified census tracts in L.A. County increased by 16% between 1990 and 2015, according to a 2016 study by the UCLA Urban Displacement Project. The risk of displacement of low-income households is shown to be ongoing.
The Wednesday protest at Currie Hall is part of a larger series of protests spread out across the county this week, called ACCE’s Week of Action. On Monday, tenant leaders and supporters gathered to protest at Blackstone offices in Santa Monica.
The Blackstone Group is a major private financial firm that has skyrocketed to become one of the world’s largest corporate residential landlords. It has amassed control of properties across the United States, including homes and apartments in California, but it doesn’t stop there. Blackstone’s array of assets also includes companies like Bumble, Hilton hotels, CentreParcs resorts and even Legoland.
In 2022, Blackstone Funds completed a $13 billion acquisition of American Campus Communities, Inc. (“ACC”), the company that owns and manages Currie Hall, where the protest took place Wednesday.
ACC claims to be the largest owner, manager and developer of student housing communities in the United States, according to their website.
“We are proud and excited to have our best-in-class company join Blackstone, whose expertise, resources and consistent access to capital will allow us to grow and continue to lead the student housing industry,” ACC Chief Executive Officer Bill Bayles said in a statement released by Blackstone last August.
Less enthused, tenant leaders and members of ACCE said that as one of America’s largest landlords, Blackstone is “one of the biggest drivers of the housing and homelessness crisis,” via an Instagram post.
“Enough is enough,” said Fernanda Sanchez, a tenant organizer. “We’re tired of them creating loopholes within our laws, within our bylaws, allowing corporations such as Blackstone to come and take over our spaces, take over our housing, displace our communities.”
ACCE said that Blackstone is “funneling money to lobbyists and politicians to block new, stronger tenant protections that will prevent more Californians from becoming housing insecure or being thrown out onto the streets,” according to the caption of an ACCE Instagram post.
To combat this, ACCE and community members are strongly advocating for the passing of Senate Bill 567, the Homelessness Prevention Act which builds on existing law to protect low-income renters in California from unjust evictions and unreasonably high rent increases.
Angel, a community member present for the Wednesday protest, said that he has been a victim of displacement twice.
According to Angel, passing SB567 will make it harder for landlords to raise the rent for everyone else in the community, where he has personally seen fellow community members, primarily people of color, displaced.
In rebuttal, Blackstone said that they believe they have “the most favorable resident policies among any large landlord in the U.S., including not making a single non-payment eviction for over two years during COVID,” according to a statement provided to Annenberg Media by the financial firm.
“We operate in accordance with California’s rent stabilization laws and are investing $100 million to make these communities better places to live,” Blackstone said.
As for the university, they said in a statement to Annenberg Media that they do not have a development relationship with Blackstone, and that the university “continues to partner with community members on solutions to the region’s housing crisis.”
But the fight continues for the ACCE protestors and community members, who say that in order to hold Blackstone and other corporate landlords accountable, passing SB567 is crucial. Until this happens, they will continue to gather.
The next protest in ACCE’s Week of Action took place on Friday morning at the Lafayette Multipurpose Community Center in East L.A.
As for Currie Hall, the protestors say they are not done. As they exited the lobby Wednesday afternoon, they shouted, “we’ll be back.”