California Puts up $500 Million for Community Ownership Against Big Real Estate

At Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, just east of downtown Los Angeles, mariachi bands play all day and into the night. Visitors still come to listen and hire them for weddings, quinceañeras, and other family or community events.

Some of the mariachis still live right across the street, where the East LA Community Corporation converted the historic Boyle Hotel into affordable rental housing more than a decade ago.

Born in Boyle Heights, Fanny Guzman Ortiz is no mariachi, but she still vividly remembers moving into her apartment at the former Boyle Hotel. After two years of living without their own home, her kids immediately laid down on the floor and didn’t want to leave, even though Guzman Ortiz needed them to go out with her to buy some furniture.

“I was gifted because I was able to find affordable housing in my neighborhood,” says Guzman Ortiz, a mother of five. “It’s very important to have stability. What my community did, the folks that fought and advocated for affordable housing, is how I was able to become a sustainable mother of five, with my youngest daughter having special needs.”

Guzman Ortiz today is working to provide that same gift of stable, affordable housing to others in Boyle Heights and nearby, as a community organizer for Fideicomiso Comunitario Tierra Libre. As a community land trust, the organization is a nonprofit entity that aims to acquire land and take it off the real estate market in perpetuity, putting control into the community’s hands to develop or preserve it as rental or for-sale housing, community space or commercial space that they can afford.

Boyle Heights is still around 93 percent Hispanic, and 76 percent of Boyle Heights residents are renters, with a mean household income half that of LA, according to UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. More than 60 percent of Boyle Heights residents today are rent-burdened, up from 44 percent in 1990. Around a third of Boyle Heights residents spend more than half their monthly income on rent. New development along the planned LA Bioscience Corridor has Boyle Heights residents concerned speculators will continue picking off properties unit by unit.

Too many of her neighbors, says Guzman Ortiz, have already been pushed out of the neighborhood or into the streets because of deep-pocketed speculators swooping in to acquire distressed properties and jacking up rents. But now there is something hopeful on the horizon — the state of California just set aside $500 million for organizations like Fideicomiso Comunitario Tierra Libre to acquire properties along the path to foreclosure, to prevent them from falling into the hands of speculative investors.

“I don’t see any other way of protecting those foreclosed homes or those families at risk because of the pandemic,” says Guzman Ortiz. “Every time there’s a catastrophe, people are displaced. We just…

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