Hillside Villa tenants rally briefly outside LA City Hall after City Council members approve a deal that extends the affordability covenants on their homes. (Phoenix Tso / LA Public Press)

Los Angeles Police Department officers ejected a group of tenants from Council chambers following a unanimous vote for a deal that awards their landlord almost $15 million and doesn’t ensure they can stay in their homes long-term.

The tenants of Hillside Villa, a Chinatown apartment complex, have been on rent strike for at least four years and fighting with their landlord for six. The $15 million deal approved by the City Council would only extend the building’s affordability contract with the city — which expired in 2018 and paved the way for rent increases of up to 300% for some tenants — for another ten years.

The deal, however, does not include canceling the affected tenants’ rent debt, estimated at a little over $1 million (a provision tenants have been pushing for since the deal became public last week). Tenants told LA Public Press they could not afford to pay this debt plus the 3% interest the city is allowing their landlord Tom Botz to charge them. They added that the conditions on repayment would leave them vulnerable to eviction and have called the deal a “bailout” for their landlord.

Tenants and their supporters chanted “No Justice! No Peace” immediately after the vote was taken. LAPD officers escorted the tenants and their supporters out of Council chambers as they continued to chant that the fight is not over.

LA City Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who represents the Hillside Villa tenants, told LA Public Press over the phone that she has been in contact with Botz recently, but that canceling rent debt is not an option.

Instead, Hernandez negotiated a six-month interest-free grace period for tenants that would precede the required six-year repayment period. She first announced this amendment during the Council’s Housing and Homelessness Committee meeting on Wednesday. Council approved that amendment as part of the overall deal with Botz on Friday.

Council approval of the deal also means that the city would drop the option of seizing Hillside Villa through eminent domain — a power governments have used to seize private land for public use — which the Housing Department said would cost the city too much money. Hillside Villa tenants say that eminent domain is the best way to keep their housing affordable in the long run.

Hillside Villa tenants have been fighting unaffordable rent increases since 2018, when around 60 tenants formed the Hillside Villa Tenant Association and went on rent strike during the Covid pandemic. Starting last Spring — soon after county Covid rent protections expired — Hillside Villa owner Tom Botz filed eviction notices against at least 35 households.

Hernandez also introduced a motion during Friday’s Council meeting directing the Housing Department to create a rent relief fund to cover rent debt accrued by tenants living in apartments with expiring affordability covenants in her district. Her motion also directs the city to move $250,000 into that fund. Hernandez told LA Public Press that she would look for additional funding sources.

“I don’t really believe a hundred percent that they’re gonna try to find funds for us,” said tenant Rosa Hernandez outside City Hall. “But we’re gonna always hold them accountable for it.”

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.

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