In recent years, residents of Boyle Heights have grown increasingly concerned about gentrification and getting priced out, given the area's attractiveness to newcomers wanting to live near downtown.
The latest development to rile up residents is spearheaded by a longtime non-profit that has strong ties within the community. The East L.A. Community Corporation is planning an affordable housing development at the corner of First and Soto. The land there is currently occupied by several housing units where 15 families live. Those units will be demolished and replaced with the new complex, to be called Cielito Lindo. Because it is a denser building, it will house many more families on this land - with a total of 50 units. The rents will range from $457 and $1033.
"There will be an opportunity for more families to be able to live in affordable housing," said Isela Gracien, executive director of ELACC.
But tenants, led by the advocacy group Union de Vecinos, say that ELACC is acting as a gentrifying force. They say it's not fair to the people who currently live on the land, most of whom already benefit from stabilized monthly rents, under the city's rent stabilization ordinance. Families will have to move with no guarantee that they'll be able to come back to the new complex.
"Every time you demolish rent-controlled housing, you're displacing people and sending them into a worse situation than they used to be," said Leonardo Vilchis, co-director of the Union de Vecinos.
The organization wants ELACC to lift any restrictions that could get in the way of tenants becoming residents in the new building. As it stands, current residents would have to meet certain conditions if they return to the new building. Their income must fall within a certain range, and they must undergo background and credit checks.
Gracien said ELACC will do what it can to help tenants move back. It will also provide relocation fees in the interim. But tenants like Terry Navarro say they remain unsettled until ELACC puts it in writing that they will be able to come back to their street no matter what.
"We've been eight years myself, other people have been longer than me," Navarro said. "Where in the hell are we going to go?"
The affordable housing complex includes a second phase that has yet to be funded, but would result in the displacement of four artists renting a single-family home, and a day care center where the owners also live.