6th Street Bridge project brings development, rising rents to Boyle Heights

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At the east end of the old site of the Sixth Street Bridge, a “For Lease” sign hangs on a small shopping center at the edge of Boyle Heights.

Elizabeth Blaney, a renters’ rights advocate and co-director of Union de Vecinos, squints at it and sighs. “There’s no telling how much that’ll rent for,” she says.

She’s been watching “For Lease” and “For Sale” signs pop up all around the area since the bridge went down, making way for new residential and commercial developments.

Longtime Boyle Heights residents like Elvira Barrales are feeling the pressure.

She’s lived in the same unit with her four children for the past 16 years. Her building was sold earlier this year, and the new owner isn’t from the neighborhood like the old one was.

Last month, the new landlord said he was coming to inspect her unit. When he left, she said, he told gave her paperwork that explained that she was in violation of her lease because too many people were living in the unit. The notice gave her three days to remove two of the occupants in the home, under threat of eviction. It meant she would have to evict two of her children, all of whom are under 16. 

When she refused to do that, he served her a notice of eviction. She hasn’t budged. So on Tuesday, she and Blaney are headed to court to fight her eviction.

The landlord, Brian Neman, was reached by KPCC, but refused to comment.

On the first floor of Elvira's building is a small, family-owned market. They were given a 30 day eviction notice at the same time. Maria Ramirez, whose family runs the market, says three new tenants have moved in to the building this year.

“They’re different people who we don’t recognize. This is a tight community. Since the bridge came down, there are a lot of new people coming into the area,” she said.

Maria and her family haven’t been able to find a new market space to rent. “We’re not sure what we’re going to do,” she said.

And if Elvira can’t win the right to stay, she worries that she won't be able to find housing in the Boyle Heights area where she’s raising her family. 

She is not alone. Blaney says this is happening all over Boyle Heights. As development from the Arts District and downtown bleed east, investors and wealthier residents are buying up properties and pushing longtime residents out by raising rents.

One by one, unit by unit, rents are creeping up. The newly-vacated units in Elvira’s building are renting for $1000. Elvira pays $630 per month for her rent-controlled apartment.

The changes are particularly obvious around the bridge site, as it is being rebuilt. New, high-density housing developments are going up, some of them replacing old buildings that once offered below-market rate housing for low-income residents. 

The Sears development site, two blocks south, will soon hold 1,000 units of market rate housing, Blaney said. One block south of that, 1,175 units of rent-controlled housing will be demolished to make way for the Wryvenwood development.

“They want to put in 4,150 units of primarily market-rate housing,” Blaney said, of the area that's all within three blocks of the bridge.

Elvira and Blaney head to court on Tuesday morning to fight Neman’s actions. 

This story has been updated to correct the details of Elvira's notice of eviction.

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