Eminent Domain Was Used to Evict a Chinatown Family. Now It Might Help Them Stay Housed.

An article in the Los Angles Times describes how the Hernandez family was forced from their one-bedroom apartment in Chinatown by eminent domain for a 30-acre expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center in 1988.

Now, eminent domain could actually keep the Hernandez family housed.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously in 2021 to explore the use of eminent domain to acquire Hillside Villa, a 124-unit apartment complex in Chinatown where Mrs. Hernandez has lived for 30 years with her husband, daughter and now grandson.  Her apartment building’s affordability covenant kept rents low until it expired in 2018.  Then came rent hikes and eviction notices.

Now the city wants to buy Hillside Villa, an olive green and red painted four-story complex with a landscaped central courtyard and a small front yard shaded by mature trees – and keep it affordable.  If the effort fails, Hernandez worries she’ll be separated from her family.

Eminent domain is an unpopular policy that has typically been deployed to build stadiums and freeways, most famously at Chavez Ravine to make way for Dodger Stadium.  Developers claim it is anti-business, and even staunch proponents of affordable housing agree eminent domain is too easily tied up in court to serve as a reliable method of producing the necessary units.  And some people view it as an attack on a quintessential American right, that of property ownership.

Eminent domain may not be the best way of producing affordable housing, but it’s a start, said Glenn Wasserman, a former attorney for the city’s redevelopment agency who also served as its chief executive between 2006 and 2010.

If the city and current property owner can’t come to an agreement over affordable housing, eminent domain can be “a creative way to extend the term of affordability covenants after they expire,” Wasserman said.

Posted in Condemnation, Eminent Domain, Public Purpose
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