Caltrans tenants sidelined as ‘710 Home’ sales surge – Streetsblog Los Angeles

Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 51 into law (SB 51) to regulate how Caltrans should proceed with the sale of rental properties along what would have been the I-710 corridor. Opposition from existing tenants, many of whom have been promised the first chance to buy properties in generations, has done little to slow the bill’s progress.

Earlier today, the United Caltrans Tenants union uploaded a video letter to YouTube on behalf of Caltrans tenants in El Sereno asking Senator María Elena Durazo, who introduced SB 51, to present a new draft of legislation to amend SB 51.51 which prohibits current tenants from forming a cooperative to purchase and rehabilitate properties in El Sereno. Tenant/landlord cooperatives are permitted and still have priority for properties sold by Caltrans in other parts of the corridor, including Pasadena and South Pasadena.

Since the passage of SB 51, several “housing-related entities” have purchased properties in El Sereno with the intent of turning them into affordable rental housing. In addition, Kevin de León, member of the Los Angeles City Council, was push the El Sereno Vision plan purchase another 77 properties and redevelop them to create more than 250 affordable housing units.

“Dear Senator Durazo, we are all residents of El Sereno and long-term tenants of Caltrans [living in multi-family homes] who for many years had the hope, the expectation, the dream of buying our homes. Just like the single-family tenants protected by the Roberti law,” explains Isabel Lomeli in the video, on behalf of the tenants of El Sereno.

The Roberti Bill, passed in the 1960s, allowed Caltrans to purchase the property while requiring the agency to grant qualified tenants – former owners/occupiers and current occupants/tenants who had lived in the homes for a some time (including those who had formed a cooperative) – the possibility of buying the property, if the I-710 was not built.

The open letter outlines several ways the city, Durazo and other groups who have purchased property from Caltrans in the 710 corridor can make the sales process work for existing residents. These requests include:

  • New legislation that allows existing residents to form a cooperative to purchase land;
  • That land purchased at a reduced price by non-profit developers be resold to resident cooperatives;
  • That the city not compete with existing tenants in the purchase of El Sereno properties.

As residents continue to lobby the city and state for a different process, they are also forming their own land trust to compete for properties currently owned by Caltrans: the El Sereno Community Land Trust. The Land Trust is partnering with other groups, including Habitat for Humanity, to create deals that would allow properties to be owned by residents rather than non-profit entities or businesses.

The video ends with personal calls from a dozen existing Caltrans tenants asking for a chance to buy their families’ homes; for some, the houses are the only ones they have ever known.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” says Elizabeth Ortega, a Caltrans tenant for 22 years. “I think it would be fair to allow us and other tenants to buy our homes.”

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