By NATHAN SOLIS
HIGHLAND PARK — A silent, candlelight procession marched down Figueroa Street on Saturday night to vacant apartment buildings where people gathered to hear poignant speeches about being displaced from the neighborhood in the second gentrification demonstration to take place in recent weeks.
Organizers wore orange arm bands while they carried a puppet representing a greedy landlord. This was a much lighter version of the organizers’ last march down York Boulevard where they served eviction notices to businesses. “We had different goals with each event,” said Arturo Romo speaking on behalf of the Northeast Los Angeles Alliance.
November’s protest was to show that some businesses are complacent when it comes to gentrification, said Romo. Saturday’s silent vigil is more of a reaction to development plans for the neighborhood.“We’re trying to highlight that gentrification is displacement. The whole process seems to have snowballed in recent years.”
The demonstrators gathered in front of an empty apartment building across from the Gold Line tracks, flashing the words “Housing is a Human Right” across the building whose tenants were told to move out by the new owners. Moses Kagan of Adaptive Realty, which is managing the property and overseeing the renovations on behalf of the owners, said the renovated apartments will be leased to any qualified tenants willing to pay market rents. In a blog post, Kagan said:
We understand that losing one’s home is scary and painful. And we know that, even if you’re not losing your home, seeing your neighborhood change rapidly around you can be disorienting, at a minimum.
That said, having considered the issues carefully, we come down on the side of those who believe that housing ought to be subject to the free market, just like most other things we consume. So, we will continue to conduct our business in a way which is lawful (of course) and also respectful of the feelings of the people whose lives are affected.”
But many Highland Park renters who participated at Saturday’s demonstration said they feel disrespected and angry. Vanny Arias, a single mother of three, spoke about her former home off of Avenue 52 and York Boulevard. When the rent went up and Arias could not afford to stay there she was forced into a one bedroom apartment.
“I can’t help but feel angry,” Arias says of the new face of Highland Park. “How are they going to raise our rent like that? Everything I know is here.”
Eduardo Bedoy feels tension with some of the new businesses in the neighborhood. “It’s hard to see your mother being ignored in a boutique or at a gourmet restaurant. That doesn’t feel good.”
The silent vigil culminated at Tierra de la Culebra Park on Avenue 57 where more people expressed their dealings with the changing neighborhood and gentrification. Some sang, others vented, and most simply nodded their heads in agreement.
“Once someone leaves their home they become invisible, so we’re trying to share these testimonies now,” Romo said. “There is a trauma involved when you’re asked to leave your home, so it means a lot for these people to have a place to talk.”
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.