THOUGHTS N FEELINGS

Why We Rent Strike: Boyle Heights Mariachis' Fight to Stay Housed

On Friday, November 17 at The Smell, a lineup of great bands played a benefit show to raise money for the legal fees of the tenants of 1815 E 2nd St in Boyle Heights tenants who are at serious risk of eviction and have been on a rent strike for several months. For some context for the show and the struggle, here’s an edited transcript of a conversation that aired on IndyMedia on KPFK (90.7FM) between host Chris Burnett (CB), Fernando, a member of the LA Tenants Union and Unión de Vecinos, and Francisco, a tenant at 1815 E 2nd St who is participating in the rent strike.

Donate to help the Mariachis and their fellow tenants pay legal fees.

Mariachis and tenants protest unjust rent increases in their Boyle Heights neighborhood. (Photo via Timo Saarelma)

Mariachis and tenants protest unjust rent increases in their Boyle Heights neighborhood. (Photo via Timo Saarelma)

CB: Fernando, maybe you can explain to our listeners what's happening and some background here:

Fernando: 
I’m part of the LA Tenants Union, the East LA Chapter and also Unión de Vecinos. We’re actively fighting against gentrification and displacement in Boyle Heights and all over East LA. We linked up with other groups, other activists in the area and we’ve been actively fighting and organizing against unjust rent increases that are happening, against the displacements... 

...We’re fighting to try to keep people in the community. We’ve had some victories in the past, where we have maintained buildings under rent control where landlords had tried to evict unjustly tenants that were under control, which is illegal. We’ve also helped other tenants that are not under rent control, buildings that have faced major increases, unjust increases, helped to come up with a plan to unite all the tenants in their building, to join the LA Tenants Union, to launch a campaign against their landlord, and they have won...

...Right now we have the Mariachi building, 1815 E 2nd St, another example of a building that’s not under rent control, and basically you have this corporate landlord buying it and literally raising the rent unjustly over $800. This is happening all over LA, from Crenshaw to South Central to Boyle Heights to East LA to Inglewood, all over... This is a housing crisis in LA and no politicians are actually about gentrification or ever trying to help the tenants that are facing illegal evictions like the Mariachis, so that’s why we really have to depend on the community and I think the Mariachis and Francisco, right here, and his building are setting the example for that.

CB: Francisco, why don’t you explain what happened with your building and with this new landlord BJ Turner.

Francisco: In my building where I’ve been living for 12 years– and there’s a lot of other people living there for 25 years, 27 years, 21 years– most other people are Mariachis, because it happens that my building is a block away from Mariachi Plaza, where are the Mariachi bands play and gather so they can work as Mariachis. This year, BJ Turner and Steve Goodman bought my building...and we got a letter saying “New landlord” and that we’re gonna get a rent increase of 80%, which is up to $800 more than what we’re paying right now. Unreasonable right? Who can pay $800? We couldn’t do anything about it. We didn’t know our rights, what to do...

...So the next thing that we did was get together with the LA Tenants [Union] and Unión de Vecinos to do something about it. So we’re doing some protesting, trying to negotiate with BJ Turner and Steve Goodman, and no success. Nothing. We’ve been doing protesting all over LA. We’ve been in Beverly Hills in Boyle Heights, in Hollywood, the rent strike…There is a group of people doing the rent strike and it’s been for 4 months already, and we’ve been doing this [protesting] for 8 months already.

CB: My understanding is that was that there was going to be a protest near BJ Turner’s house a few weeks ago, it was cancelled [because Turner said] that they were ready to negotiate and meet, but [after] they met, apparently we went immediately to court and filed papers, is that correct?

Francisco: That’s correct... Finally, after months of protesting...he gave us a letter...[with] unbelievable requests. One of the things that he wanted was to meet one-on-one. We’re a union and we want to meet him as a union, as union members. But he decided not to do that meeting. Instead of postponing, or agreeing with what we want for him, he sent us to trial basically. And in this past week… – after having posters outside of our homes, protesting again, being part of the newspaper, on TV– he wants to negotiate again. Then last week, or two weeks ago, he just walked away from us. He didn’t negotiate...

...I just want to tell you one thing about not having rent control. This is for the people who live in non rent control buildings. This is a wake up call. We cannot just stand there and be quiet about it. We have to speak out, we have to find someone that can help us, and that’s why we’re doing all these [actions]. This is for a wakeup call for a lot of people. We’re doing a protest in BJ Turner’s community, which is going to be Tuesday November 28, at 5:30 at Manning and Pico Blvd...This is protesting for the landlord, so he can listen to us, listen that we are not alone. There’s a community that is behind us…

Fernando: Like Francisco said, this a wakeup call. If you’re a renter, a working person that rents in LA, you are in jeopardy of being displaced, your rent being raised dramatically, especially if you live in working class communities, so the best solution is to get active, get organized...