Hillside Villa tenants gather outside of LA Housing Department manager Ann Sewill's house. (Phoenix Tso / LA Public Press)

The head of the LA Housing Department has resigned from her post following criticism from tenants fighting to stay housed.

In an email sent on Wednesday, LA Housing Department general manager Ann Sewill said she had informed Mayor Karen Bass that she would step down at the end of July. In the letter, Sewill alluded to colleagues’ potential concern about her health, but said “just for the record – not dying, not retiring, not moving away, just not leading LAHD.” Sewill added that she would focus on a “couple things to address housing insecurity well instead of juggling 500” in her time left at the department.

LA Public Press has reached out to Sewill, the housing department, and the mayor’s office for comment.  Housing Department Public Information Director Sharon Sandow wrote in an email that “[Sewill’s] resignation was, as noted in the letter, partially due to health issues and partially due to a desire, after almost 5 decades in the affordable housing space, to focus on specific projects at this point in her career,”

“The recent Hillside Villa protests did not play a part in her decision.”

Tenants and housing organizers have criticized Sewill and the department, saying they have failed to protect them from landlord harassment, rent increases, and evictions. 

Residents of the Chinatown low-income apartment complex Hillside Villa have called for Mayor Karen Bass and the LA City Council to fire Sewill since last year, accusing her of favoring their landlord Tom Botz, after Botz imposed rent increases of up to 300% after an affordability covenant – which limits rent increases for a specified period of time – expired on their housing in 2019.

In the last couple of weeks, tenants have protested in front of Sewill’s house, calling on her to release the details of a secret deal that they believe she is negotiating with Botz that could change their housing situation. An LA Public Press investigation also found Sewill and other city officials making concessions to Botz during negotiations, as well as criticizing tenants and joking about eminent domain.

In an ironic twist, the LA Housing Department was recently evicted from its office building, showing the lack of protections that tenants have under local law.

Sewill became the Housing Department general manager in July 2020, according to the department’s website.

Phoenix Tso is a journalist with a passion for hyperlocal storytelling. She is usually on the search for coffee, new food to try, or a nature walk.