The Women of Pico Aliso: 20 Years of Housing Activism

This is an interview with public housing activists: Delmira González, who has lived in Pico Aliso, now called Pico Gardens, for 35 years, Ana Hernández (25 years), Manuela Lomeli (40 years), and Maria Quintana (24 years).

First edition was published by Community Beacon [print-only]

Our struggle started in 1996 when 36 families [in Pico Aliso] received flyers from the Housing Authority of the City of LA (HACLA). They just put a flyer underneath our door, and told us that we could move out to Section 8 housing. We were very worried. We started to organize ourselves. In the beginning, we went to organizations like the church and Proyecto Pastoral. But they were going to receive money from the plans to redevelop so they did not support us. Instead they blessed the demolition and this caused division within the community. HACLA wanted to demolish the 1,285 units of public housing we called home. We decided to form Union de Vecinos to fight for our housing.

At first, we didn’t know what kind of rights we had. I just didn’t think we would be able to stop the Federal Government from what they wanted to do. Fortunately, organizing opened a big door for us: understanding our rights. The HACLA could not just stand on our necks. We were able to stay on site during the 2 years of reconstruction and move into new homes in the new development. Now, 20 years later, we have to fight against the privatization of our housing, and we are winning. Recently, we became part of the participatory budget process within HACLA.

People who are poor know we have to continue to defend our rights. We have to think of our own solutions to our problems. We have to organize ourselves. We need to train ourselves and look for support. Poverty is not going to end; on the contrary it is increasing. That’s why we are fighting for the 14 public housing developments in Los Angeles to stay. To bring our kids into seeing that we didn’t have housing with dignity, and now, years later, we can change history, that’s what keeps us strong. It’s a lot of work, but we will achieve it. This thinking is what we try to leave upon our children and upon others. Sometimes it seems very far away, but I know that we are going to have changes at the Federal Government level, and within our communities for the better.

We continue to fight for public housing because we all deserve it! We deserve housing with dignity and a place to live.

We are talking to people about the galleries surrounding us, and those who are thinking of coming in the future. The galleries need to understand how they impact housing and the neighborhood. They know very well that they will increase property values and rents. They will displace those of us who are poor and low-income. We don’t see their type of business benefiting us. The galleries can go [back] to Hollywood or other places where they are not going to cause damage. I don’t understand why they want to bring damage to our neighborhood and put us at risk.

Now our biggest concern is gentrification. Because it affects both private and public housing. It’s very worrying to see all the displacement that is happening, and there is only more displacement and more homelessness coming, unless the Federal Government, the City, and the developers open their eyes. We pay taxes. We have a right to housing and not to end up in the street.

They are trying to transform these buildings into luxury housing or studios on top of the galleries and to create a lifestyle like New York. Boyle Heights is not ready for that. We need jobs and housing for those who have been displaced in the past. People here don’t have the means to buy the pieces of work that cost $30,000. We need housing for low-income people. Our schools are overpopulated; we need a supermarket that is truly affordable, and small businesses in the community to grow. For these reasons, the galleries are no good.

The galleries need to get out of Boyle Heights.

My wish for the community is that we have more public housing for families. I know people who have three families living in the same apartment just to make rent. With all these vacant spaces they are using, there could be more public housing. No more demolition. No more displacement of families. We want improvements, but for US, those of us who have struggled for so long. So many years, we have fought for our community, in so many different ways– fighting for our housing, against violence, for better schools, to kick out some of the liquor stores that were too close to our schools, for better streets, so many things we have fought and won.

We want our community for us! My children live here. It’s very important that they are integrated in our community where we have treated each other as one big family. I want this attitude to continue for my kids when I am no longer here. And that they continue to live next to their family. We know our services, our networks. We help each other out.

We want the ears of our Council Members to hear this. And Mayor Garcetti as well. I don’t want him touching the housing of low-income families. He made a promise and he needs to keep it. Why is he allowing the selling of properties to these type of businesses that won’t benefit us? If I see evidence that they are protecting the people that exist in these low-income housing while building new housing, then maybe one day I will believe what he says.