South Central residents stand up for better living conditions through new LA Tenants Union chapter
Residents of Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park and Crenshaw — South Central communities rich in black culture — have witnessed a number of neighborhood changes in recent years.
Leimert Plaza Park, once home to vendors and African drums, has been fenced off by gates and is awaiting renovation. Along Crenshaw Boulevard, which extends through all three neighborhoods, the construction of a new Los Angeles Metro transit line signals the pending arrival of new visitors.
Tenants in the area are experiencing threats of eviction, unsanitary living conditions and stubborn landlords. Renters in the Baldwin Village apartment complex are living in units with punctured walls and have dealt with structures caving in, while seniors in Leimert Park’s Good Shepherd Manor are getting pushed out as management makes plans to convert the building into market-rate condominiums.
Amid this uncertainty, South Central residents are refusing to be victims.
Alicia Rhoden and Zerita Jones, of Baldwin Hills, are fighting to stay in their neighborhoods through a new chapter of the Los Angeles Tenants Union. It’s known as BLC, an acronym for Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park and Crenshaw. The chapter’s name is also a nod to the black identity of the community — something they intend to preserve as their surroundings continue to shift around them.
“It’s either fight or go quietly,” Jones said. “I don’t plan to go quietly. I’m not really a carry a stick kind of person, but my pen is my word. My words are strategic, passionate enough. That’s my neighborhood.”
The women decided to lead the chapter as volunteers to inform their neighbors about their rights and encourage them to approach their landlords when problems arise. To the women, it’s important to come together as a community to combat the issues they are all facing.
“They used to say we were the gang bangers and the mothers not wanting anything,” said Rhoden, who has lived at the Baldwin Village apartment complex for six years. “That’s not the picture that I see today. I see mothers working … trying to learn. I see, yes, self-esteem, but I also see a community and I guess I can say I’m kind of proud to be in that community … I’ve seen it gone from crying every night to people helping each other and that’s what I like.”
Jones and Rhoden have encountered a number of housing issues within the region covered by the new chapter. Jones’ apartment complex, Chesapeake Apartments, was threatened with eviction in 2017 when the city filed a lawsuit against the owner that November after calling it a center for gang violence. Residents of the complex didn’t find out about the threat until two months later, she said. For two years in the 1990s, Rhoden and her twin were homeless. She now lives in Baldwin Village where she’s had to argue with the landlord to get the apartment fixed and has endured threats, which have since quieted, threatening to kick her out.
“The landlords cannot run over you,” Rhoden said. “You have the right to say what your rights are. You have the right to be in a safe and clean environment. You don’t have the right to have harassment done to you, and it’s also your community. It’s about community.”
Jones and Rhoden have spoken to a number of residents and have found that many tenants are facing poor living conditions.
“You find that [despite] some of the horrific things, the owner is still raising the rent every year,” Jones said. “[Tenants] don’t feel as though they deserve to have their apartment, which is really kind of ironic. The landlords really get upset [when] a toilet isn’t working. It seems as though that there’s a culture where they forgot about normal wear and tear.”
Jones and Rhoden are helping create tenant associations for different housing complexes in the area, which will be dedicated to addressing the problems encountered by their respective complexes. They plan to begin in Baldwin Village and Good Shepherd Manor. Jones also leads one she created in 2018 for Chesapeake Apartments before joining the LA Tenants Union.
“They’ll just bulldoze all over you and they just do all kinds of illegal stuff to scare, to threaten the person out,” Jones said. “But if the person is informed, they don’t have to get angry. They can be polite and fight back because it’s the law, you know, in order to protect them and their rights and their home.”
A tenant rights workshop held in Leimert Park in February marked the first event of the new chapter as it continues to spread notice of its presence to residents. Despite a downpour of rain, nearly 30 people attended the event, which was the first of a series of monthly tenant rights workshops that will be hosted in the area. Rhoden and Jones, along with other members of the LA Tenants Union, have been knocking on doors, distributing flyers and sending emails as they build the local chapter. They have now received enough members to make the chapter official, Jones said.
Paul Lanctot, a member of the LA Tenants Union South Central chapter, said they are planning on making the BLC chapter official after the initial six workshops are held, but depending on the interest it could become a full-time chapter sooner. Once official established, Jones and Rhoden will host bimonthly meetings in Leimert Park Village to address community issues.
“We’re here to educate people, empower them and not let them live in fear,” Rhoden said. “Because a lot of people live in fear when they’re in an apartment: ‘If I say something too much, is the landlord going to put me out? I can’t afford to move.’”