Rent Hikes Have Mariachis Fearing Displacement From Neighborhood Named After Them

Luis Valdivia and brother Enrique have lived near Mariachi Plaza for over 20 years. Now the changing neighborhood might leave them behind.

BOYLE HEIGHTS (CBSLA) — When you walk around the Los Angeles community of Boyle Heights just east of Downtown, you see streets named “Boyle,” “Breed” and “Brooklyn,” names that speak to the neighborhood’s long history as an ethnic, working class enclave. Where once stood the shops of Jewish and Russian transplants from the East Coast that did business along Chinese, Japanese and Mexican residents, now sits a community which is holding on to those long-established roots.

Boyle Heights has for decades been a predominantly working class, Latino neighborhood, with Mariachi Plaza on First and Boyle opening the rest of the city up to the Eastside. However, just a block away from the square where musicians in their glimmering, musical suits of armor line up daily to get hired, the chanteurs for whom the plaza was named are fighting market forces to stay in a place some have called home for decades.

As the post-recession housing market has heated up, Boyle Heights has seen an influx of real estate investment, bringing in new residents and clientele, and making the neighborhood a battleground against what many see as gentrification.

The apartment complex at 1815 E. Second St., where about a dozen mariachis live, is one such building where the new owner saw potential. However, that potential has turned into heartache for brothers Luis and Enrique Valdivia.

Luis performs with mariachi bands all over Southern California; Sundays you’ll find him at Mariscos King Fish in Baldwin Park. Mariachi Plaza, where they wait around to get picked for gigs, is literally one street over.

Luis has lived in Boyle Heights for 30 years and has shared the same apartment with his brother for 21 of those. But since the sale of the building to a new owner last year, the brothers, along with a handful of their neighbors, have seen their rent increase significantly.

Luis’ rent went from $1000 to $1825 a month — almost double — an amount he and his brother just can’t afford, in a neighborhood that for decades was the only one families like his could afford. At $70 a gig, an $800 increase is impossible to absorb.

“It is a price too high for us,” Luis tells CBS2 News.

Six of his neighbors received similar notices.

The new owner of the building tried to capitalize on the newfound “trendiness” of the neighborhood, with its new eateries and coffee shops, by installing an artsy fence, a few plants, and debuting a new website for the apartments called “Mariachi Crossing.” It’s currently down.

It’s an M.O. many people in gentrifying communities like this know all too well.

“It was obvious what their strategy was,” Hector Peña Ramirez tells CBS2 News, “trying to get all of us out of here.”

Ramirez is a former mariachi who is studying law.

“A lot of my neighbors might turn around and become homeless,” Ramirez says. “And that’s a serious concern.”

Aside from the primary fear of having to leave their homes of decades, many lament the fact that the very musicians who helped shape the identity of Boyle Heights are being priced out.

Luis could not pay the extra $800, so now he’s facing eviction.

Members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union joined residents of the building to protest the exorbitant increases.

The building’s new management denied the tenants’ request for a group meeting, and instead told them to meet one-on-one and bring an I.D.

“I think they tried to intimidate them from even showing up to the meeting,” Ramirez says.

He wants elected officials to step in on behalf of his neighbors.

“These musicians are so talented,” he says. “Could be playing for a symphony. For the city not to focus on these families and these families, I think, is a travesty.”

The owners of the building did not want to be interviewed for this story.

However, an action by LATU scheduled for Wednesday — part of the groups “Days of Rage” campaign — was postponed after the owner agreed to talk to the tenants.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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