Militant Journalism

Los Angeles tenants launch direct action against landlord abuses

On June 22, tenants from all across Los Angeles – including people involved in well-covered campaigns against gentrification, rent increases, landlord abuse, and evictions in Westlake, Boyle Heights, South Central Los Angeles, and other neighborhoods – converged on a stripmall in Mid-City Los Angeles owned by Chung Suk Kim, a multi-millionaire landlord who also owns a seven-building
apartment complex in the University Park area surrounding the University of Southern California, where he has served 80 tenants (mostly Black, Mexican and Central American) with eviction notices, following plans to turn their low-income units into luxury student housing.

Organized by the recently founded Los Angeles Tenants’ Union, with solidarity from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Democratic Socialists of America Los Angeles, National Lawyers’ Guild Los Angeles, Defend Boyle Heights, Burlington Unidos, and other groups, the protest followed a wave of creative direct actions organized to call attention to the role landlords play in Los Angeles’ escalating housing emergency.

In a city where the majority of residents are renters, rent hikes have far outpaced increases in the minimum wage, and displacement (leading to some of the highest homelessness rates in the country) has reached epidemic levels – especially in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, Westlake, University Park, and others where developers have seen opportunities for comfortable profits – the protesters called attention to the luxury that landlords like Kim and their families live in, compared to the overcrowding, disrepair, and infestations of rats and cockroaches reported in the residences he owns.

Previously, the L.A. Tenants Union organized a caravan of tenants and community members to picket Kim’s multi-million dollar “White House” style mansion in Buena Park, Orange County, challenging the “slumlord” to “come out of your mansion and talk to your tenants!”

In keeping with these creative tactics, organizers and tenants occupied the sidewalks outside another of Kim’s properties, attracting much attention from drivers and pedestrians passing by, customers using the businesses in the stripmall, and even workers who worked inside. Many didn’t even know about their landlord’s involvement in situations like those around University Park, and as tenants facing eviction near USC talked to over-worked laborers in buildings owned by the same man, in the sharing of grievances there was a strong sense of the class solidarity and outrage that comes from knowing our shared oppressors, as well as the encouraging feeling of using protest and organization to fight back and win victories.

Those leading the action were multigenerational, multiethnic, multinational, and full of class consciousness in their slogans and signs. Multiple speeches made explicit statements rejecting faith in elected officials and the exclusive use of official channels in confronting problems of housing and the cost of living, instead highlighting the importance and potential of using direct action, rent strikes, and organizing oppressed and working people into a unified political force capable of standing up to those with power and property.

Tenants from related struggles around the city shared their experiences and successes in unifying occupants against the abuses of their landlords. While the situation is indeed a crisis, militant actions like this one give us many reasons to be optimistic about the mass forces rising up in reaction to the everyday oppressions of the capitalist system and landlordism in particular, whose effects are felt by tens of millions of people in this country.

By publicly showing unity and strength in the face of slumlords who profit off of the poverty of the majority, the protest showed how power lies in the hands of the many, not the few.

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