Residents oppose Mariachi Plaza housing project

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By Ashley Orona

Contributing Writer

BOYLE HEIGHTS — An affordable housing development planned for Mariachi Plaza is registering considerable neighborhood opposition, despite years of discussion between the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the developer and community members.

The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council asked that changes be made to address the community’s concerns to the Lucha Reyes affordable housing development Sept. 10 after the developer made a presentation and residents commented.

Board members and residents claimed that the MTA, which owns the property, and the developer did not do enough outreach in the community before presenting the project to the neighborhood council. They also expressed concerns regarding several aspects of the project including parking, cultural sensitivity concerning project design and the lack of affordability of the apartments to current Boyle Heights residents.

The Lucha Reyes Apartments is a proposed affordable housing project located next to Mariachi Plaza at First Street and Boyle Avenue. The project would bring 60 units of affordable housing for families and homeless youth ages 18-24. It will provide mental health and supportive services and include 32 residential parking spots and retail space on the ground floor.

In 2018, the MTA approved an agreement with the East Los Angeles Community Corporation to develop the project.

When the development was originally proposed in 2014, it received significant opposition from Boyle Heights residents and stakeholders, which caused the project to be put on hold. When project discussions resumed in 2017, community members echoed some of the same concerns with the project, including displacement of musicians and artists that use the plaza and a lack of community engagement in the process.

The East Los Angeles Community Corporation has held 11 community engagement meetings in the past 18 months, according to Ernesto Espinoza, a representative for the developer. Residents were able to engage in the process of the Lucha Reyes Apartments by joining committees in these meetings that discussed topics such as amenities, design and commercial development opportunities.

“We really believe strongly in doing accountable community driven development, equitable housing,” Espinoza said.

At the Sept. 10 neighborhood council meeting, many residents said they were not aware of the project and how advanced in the process it already is. They also criticized the developer for only talking about the support but not the opposition against the project, including an online petition against the project with more than 4,000 signatures.

Boyle Heights is one of the most populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles and suffers from overcrowded homes, lack of housing accessibility and rapid gentrification. While residents say they recognize the need for affordable and accessible housing in Boyle Heights, they are also concerned about the lack of input they have in affordable housing projects recently proposed in the neighborhood.

Residents expressed concern that the project did not include enough parking spaces for its occupants and would amplify the lack of parking and traffic congestion in the area. Because the project is close to a Gold Line rail station, the developer does not have to guarantee parking spots for the project, according to SB 35, which the state Legislature passed in 2017 to streamline housing construction.

Boyle Heights is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with many buildings featuring historic architectural designs. Because of that, residents were also concerned that the apartments’ contemporary design would clash with the aesthetic of Mariachi Plaza and the neighborhood in general.

“I’m profoundly concerned with the visual aesthetic of the project that essentially looks like it’s completely out of place in a historical area,” said David Silvas, a neighborhood council board member.

Even though the development would not change the layout of Mariachi Plaza, residents expressed fear of displacement there. The neighborhood square hosts professional mariachi musicians, a weekly farmers market, multiple community-organized events and an annual mariachi festival. A portion of the plaza replicates Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City and serves as a symbol of cultural pride and identity for Boyle Heights.

Displacement might also affect those living in the neighborhood. Twenty-eight of the 6o units will be reserved for families earning 50% of the area median income, while 30 units will be reserved for homeless youth ages 18-24 years-old, with rents set at 30% of the area’s media income.

The median income is around $36,000 in Boyle Heights, significantly below the county’s median. While most residents might be eligible for the units priced at 30% of area median incoime, they might be priced out of units at 50% of that mark.

This is especially worrying, since over 9,000 households in Boyle Heights earn below $20,000 a year and may not meet the minimum income limits set by East Los Angeles Community Corporation to qualify for their housing, a point made by a StreetBlogs article from 2015.

“We all want affordable housing for Boyle Heights but we know that many of the people that get into the buildings are not from Boyle Heights,” said board member Carlos Montes.

The MTA told a reporter that it is engaging in additional public outreach to address community concerns.

“Anything with affordable housing is something that we shouldn’t throw out the window immediately,” said resident Elsy Garcia. “But I think it’s something that needs to be revisited [and] needs to be revised.”

Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.