Meet the tenants who face evictions over the holidays unless council ordinance passes

During the 14 years that Antonia Zavala and her family have lived at 540 E. 64th St.—an apartment building across the street from Jordan High School in North Long Beach—tenants only saw their rent increase $300.

At $1,000 a month, tenants in the 16 one-bedroom units have been paying some of the most affordable rent available in the area, a fact not lost on them.

“He had a conscience,” said Zavala in Spanish of her longtime landlord who employed her as a property manager for the last 10 years.

That all changed last month when, after persistent requests for him to sell to WestStar Property Management over the last year, the building changed ownership.

Zavala said her previous owner was promised things would stay the same except for a few repairs, but change came almost immediately.

Tenants found out the building was sold on Oct. 17. The next day half the units received eviction notices so WestStar could “rehabilitate.” The other half is expected to receive their own notices soon.

While tenants were given half of a relocation assistance payment of $3,325—per a city ordinance that passed this year—they were told that if they want to return they have to show proof that they earn three times the amount of the new rental fees.

In other words, they need to earn a minimum of about $5,000 a month to pay for units that will cost $1,500 to $1,600 per month.

For the mostly immigrant, low-income tenants living paycheck to paycheck, such a demand is nearly impossible.

WestStar did not respond to a request for comment.

The apartment building is one of two that Councilman Rex Richardson was made aware of in his district where tenants received no-fault eviction notices in recent months.

He called these actions “real estate games” in response to the state law that—beginning Jan. 1—would ban rent increases of more than 5% annually and enact eviction protections.

“It shouldn’t be played on the backs of residents,” Richardson told the Long Beach Post.

Hoping to at least allow tenants to stay at their homes through the holidays, Richardson added a last-minute agenda item for tonight’s council meeting that would put a freeze on no-fault eviction notices through Dec. 31.

If tonight’s agenda item is passed, the city attorney would be directed to draft an “urgency ordinance” to be reviewed at the Nov. 12 meeting. If the council approves it next week it would mean tenants like Zavala would be spared through the holidays at least.

On Sunday night, while organizers with Long Beach Forward and Housing Long Beach educated a handful of the tenants of 540 E. 64th St., neighbors also practiced their speeches they plan to deliver during public comment tonight.

One by one, many fighting back tears and speaking in Spanish, tenants shared stories of a tight-knit community.

They spoke of neighbors babysitting children, going next door for tortillas when they ran out, and even trusting each other to move cars to avoid parking tickets.

For those with families, they expressed distress in upending their children’s lives and anger that, with so much development taking place nearby they won’t be around to enjoy it.

“I don’t want to leave here because they are making so many nice changes here in Long Beach,” Zavala said. “Why can’t we enjoy them? Why can’t our children enjoy them? Since they were little they have been in these parts when there’s been many fights, many shootings, so many ugly things that happened and now that they are doing all these changes they want to move us?”

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.