NOlympics, Homes Not Hotels Canvass

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Our next “Homes Not Hotels” canvass will meet on Saturday, August 10 from 1-3:30pm at the Ground Game LA offices in East Hollywood. We’ll be going door-to-door in Hollywood again and asking more of your neighbors to sign on to our letter to City Councilmember, Mitch O’Farrell. 

Since NOlympics LA formed, we have consistently maintained that bringing the Olympics to Los Angeles would displace people even if no new venues were built, as the idea of, and lead-up to the Games function primarily as the marketing campaign for a land grab by real estate speculators, and enticed by local governments. However, even we have been surprised by the speed with which the promise of a “no build” Olympics has been abandoned.

The most egregious example of this has been the city’s push to build The Fig, a new development by USC that will demolish 32 RSO units and displace # long-time, low-income tenants. The initial motion within City Council did not reference any of this, but rather focused on the 298 new hotel rooms at The Fig, describing them as “necessary” and claiming that “this community requires additional hotel rooms…to prepare the City for the growing tourism sector…at Exposition Park, as well as the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

At a time when our city faces historic crises around homelessness, gentrification, and displacement, destroying RSO housing stock and displacing tenants is akin to pouring gasoline on a raging fire. It is particularly disturbing to see all of this being rationalized by a false sense of urgency around potential hotel room shortages. It is critical that we oppose this narrative as it will continue to be used by developers and their political allies to justify further displacement. There is no hotel room shortage today and there is no reason to suspect that there will be one in 2028. As of 2018, there were 125,000 hotel rooms and 42,000 Airbnbs near projected Olympic venues. Developers built and opened 5,835 new hotel rooms across L.A. County in just the last two years, and the land developer industry estimates that 10,000 more will open within the next three years. Meanwhile, 23,000 rent-stabilized units in Los Angeles have been destroyed, removed, or converted to market rate since 2001. We can see this imbalance reflected at a hyper-local level as well, as Hollywood has seen hotel rooms double since 2000 while an estimated 12,500 residents were displaced by rising rents and the Latinx population dropped by 17% from 2000 to 2010.

Common sense already dictates that these tens of thousands of new hotel rooms will not house the hundreds of thousands of Angelenos who are currently unhoused or on the brink of homelessness. However, beyond simply failing to address our ongoing housing crisis, unchecked hotel development will exacerbate it by contributing to the following issues:

1. Direct displacement and eviction.

The Fig sets a dangerous precedent for developers looking to capitalize on the Olympics’ ability to drive gentrification and directly displace “undesirable” working class tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods. Additionally, hotel conversion is one of the provisions that allows landlords to evict tenants from rent-stabilized housing under the Ellis Act. Landlords of RSO buildings in gentrifying neighborhoods already use this justification to evict and displace tenants. Another clear example is a proposed 160-room hotel project in Hollywood at 1719 Whitley Avenue that would demolish 40 existing rent-stabilized apartments. Politicians, land developers and the industry around them preach a neoliberal model of infinite economic growth through development and redevelopment of the city itself. Using an impending Olympic Games to frame new hotel rooms as “necessary” to the area, we have every reason to believe that developers will further target communities with slated venues or high tourist concentrations, such as Inglewood, Hollywood, Koreatown, and increasingly South LA.

2. Gentrification and social cleansing.

A new hotel can be the perfect vehicle for real estate developers and speculators to accelerate gentrification, attracting wealthy tourists to “test drive” a neighborhood that wealthy residents of a city may not be ready to colonize yet, and facilitating the “rebranding” of a neighborhood as younger, more affluent, more “cultured,” etc. while pushing out the existing working class residents. Luxury hotel development was a key part of the plan to gentrify Rio around the 2016 Games led by real estate tycoon Carlos Carvalho, who openly talked about his vision for the legacy of the Athletes Village (which he dubbed “Ilha Pura” or Pure Island) to become “a city of the elite, of good taste.” One of the many developments he pushed in the lead up to the Games was a 3,000 room luxury hotel.

3. Criminalization of poverty and homelessness.

The increased presence of wealthy tourists also brings increased incentive for real estate speculators, developers, and landlords to remove any signs of visible poverty via criminalization and police harassment, targeting unhoused residents as well as informal economies such as street vending and sex work. Our Housing and Homelessness comrades performing Street Watch witness this presently in the cruel encampment evictions perpetrated by LAPD of houseless persons nearby to gleaming new edifices of hotels and luxury residences.

4. Wedge between organized labor and tenants rights.

Construction trade and service industry unions sometimes favor new projects due to the opportunities they may create for current and future members. The development industry and their allies are well aware of this dynamic, as well as existing divisions between some unions themselves, to routinely pit different types of workers versus each other and other members of the public. We also commonly see these tensions exacerbated as elected officials and developers will emphasize the economic benefits of new hotels and promise a certain number of new jobs to the area, while ignoring or downplaying the direct displacement occurring at the same time, implicitly presenting jobs and homes as mutually exclusive options within a community.

5. Diversion of resources.

There are several large hotel projects which have captured 1 billion dollars in direct public subsidy via tax reimbursements from the City – a staggering number, especially when compared to the anticipated shortfall of Proposition HHH funding for supportive housing. For a much larger number of smaller (but not small) hotel and mixed use projects within the city of Los Angeles (and other municipalities like West Hollywood and Inglewood), structure zoning codes and other land use law mechanisms (e.g. special zone change requests, height increases, fewer public accommodations, whole Community Plans etc.) facilitate and encourage hotel and mixed-use commercial development over housing development generally. The housing losses described above are so-called Market Forces, i.e. people, in the form of private real estate development interests and massive accumulations of capital, and elected officials, choosing to prioritize increasing property values and shortest-term profit making over protecting or expanding permanent housing. That process is ongoing, at a historically high pace.

We reject the narrative that “economic growth” is the only measurement of hotel development’s impact on a city or community, the same way that we reject that the narrative that the only measure of a “successful” Olympics is whether it stays on budget. We also reject the idea that tradeoffs between jobs and homes are inevitable. Instead, we insist on fighting for a city where everyone can live in an affordable home connected to community and public resources, without fear of displacement, and have safe, dignified work that allows them to support themselves and their families.

Sign the petition to Councilmember O'Farrell here:

Will you come?