By Matt Handocerdos
This Monday, tenants of two apartment buildings in South Central Los Angeles and masked militants confronted the property manager as he was picking up the rent.
The working-class tenants of 845 and 812 E. 28th St, known as the Griffith Apartments, have organized into the 28th Street Barrio Committee under the leadership of the mass organization Serve the People – Los Angeles (STPLA) in order to fight back against near-squalor living conditions and an extreme rent increase from approximately $1,100 to $2,300.
In preparation for the confrontation with the property manager, only known as “Corbin,” tenants hung up signs and posters in English and Spanish in front of the apartment buildings with progressive slogans like “Unidos Los Inquilinos Son Fuertes!” (United Renters are Strong!) and “Renters United Will Never Be Evicted!”
They turned over a letter to Corbin demanding the landlord repair all neglected apartment units and to stop the extreme 200-percent rent increase.
STPLA is tasking itself to transform the tenant struggle in Los Angeles into a revolutionary political struggle, a lead STPLA organizer told Incendiary. The 28th Street Barrio Committee must raise the consciousness of its members from a tenant consciousness to a working-class consciousness through political development and actions against the class enemies.
“There’s palpable energy from the tenants,” the lead organizer said. “They took initiative for propaganda making, speaking to neighbors to support them in their struggle, and in confronting the manager that shows his face only to collect rent.”
The owner of the two apartment buildings is well-known multi-millionaire real estate developer Charles Quarles, president and CEO of the Bedford Group of Companies, one of the city’s biggest real estate development firms.
Charles passes himself off as a conscious real estate developer by claiming to care about working-class communities in Los Angeles, especially Black working-class communities like South Central, while he simultaneously displaces that same community. He is only a friend to those in his social class, his fellow capitalist colleagues.
Charles sent a letter to the tenants late last year that said after 30 years the state-city program that keeps the rent low for the two apartment buildings has expired, and that he had no desire to keep the rent low.
Although Los Angeles is often hailed as a progressive city with strong renter laws, the bureaucratic stipulations allow for wormy landlords to take advantage of struggling working-class renters. Under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, landlords are not generally allowed to raise the rent more than three percent in most apartment buildings built before 1978. But the Griffith Apartments were built in 1987.
After getting into real estate in the early 1980s, Charles quickly made the move to go into affordable housing because of new tax credits and other government incentives, according to a 2016 article in the University Times.
The Tax Reform Act of 1986, under the Reagan Administration, was mainly known for lowering the tax rate for the wealthy while increasing the tax rate for people with lower income, but it also created more programs of tax credits for private investors, like Charles, while reducing government policy for public housing.
But then more landlords and developers got involved and it became too competitive. It was never meant to be a long-term commitment.
In the same 2016 article Charles said, “Affordable housing actually costs more to build, it’s very expensive…”
Under the state program known as the California Redevelopment Law, local governments create incentives for landlords to work with low-income housing through loans and grants. This offsets the landlord’s would-be loss from keeping the rent lower than the market rate.
STPLA told Incendiary that Charles is selling the apartments and since Monday appraisers have visited the buildings.
The buildings are listed at $3 million, according to the popular real estate websites like Redfin, Trulia and Zillow.
South Central Los Angeles has been an intense arena of gentrification, in particular around the private bourgeois University of Southern California and Exposition Park.
Working-class tenants have called South Central Los Angeles, and the Griffith Apartments in particular, their home for 10-to-30 years. The tenants are determined to fight to stay. They are determined to rebel.
In a recent post on social media, STPLA delivered a message from the 28th Street Barrio Committee to the public, “This parasitic relationship ends. These landlords, many of which are actually slumlords, seek to make more profit with new developments in South Central. Many of us are living in squalor conditions because you refuse to spend the money to fix our apartments and attempt to kick us out. When confronted the manager acted as if he didn’t know the concerns of the tenants. We will not pay your increase of over 1000 dollars. This is a first and last warning.”
Dozens, if not hundreds, of non-profits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been organizing in the tenant struggle for years. While there have been momentary and even some long-lasting victories, the failure of these organizations is due to the nature of their own reformism.
No amount of victories in the tenant struggle will ever be enough, now matter how hard they are fought for. Victories and reforms under capitalism are not permanent. And if they do last, like the Rent Stabilization Ordinance or the California Redevelopment Law, the capitalist will balance out their defeat in one struggle by encroaching and even reversing reforms in other struggles.
The fundamental problem of the tenant struggle is its scope and lack of revolutionary leadership. Non-profits and NGOs can only transform the tenant’s housing conditions. But what is needed, what is more important, is for the working-class tenants to seize power and transform all of society.
There is no point in reducing a rent hike or getting your kitchen sink fixed if you are still exploited at your job or oppressed by US imperialism.
STPLA has initiated an online campaign against Charles, calling for supporters to call and email Charles at his Bedford Group of Companies office to demand that he meet with his tenants, repair their apartment units and waive the rent hike.