Los Angeles Chinatown was born for a community displaced by racism and civic development in the mid-1800s.
The Chinese communities were isolated by the press which conjured up negative stereotypes and fueled anger among White people who feared the new immigrants were taking away their jobs. Chinese immigrants, like other minority ethnic groups, were restricted by which areas they could reside in, often explicitly barred from certain neighborhoods and left to face the violent realities of racism.
Despite this, Chinatown flourished and eventually expanded.
Immigrants from different parts of Asia, primarily China and Southeast Asia, have been living in LA’s Chinatown and building up communities for over 150 years. However, over the last 10 years, gentrification has been pushing these locals out of their homes as the neighborhood becomes trendier and more desirable.
This, of course, would not be the first time long-time residents were effectively pushed out of the area. In the 1930s, Chinatown residents and businesses were evicted to make space for the construction of the Union Station.
In recent years, developers have once again started purchasing properties and land to raise the rent, ordering tenants to move out all in the name of profit. This would leave tenants with nowhere to turn as it becomes increasingly difficult to find affordable housing.
At 920 Everett Street, tenants faced this exact struggle as they were being slowly pushed out presumably to make way for wealthier tenants who would be willing to pay a higher price tag for the property.
Tenants at Everett Street, many of whom are low-income immigrants and refugees from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, received a notice in late July from their landlords Robert and Rosa Chow, stating that they had only 60 days to leave.
The Chows were selling the building to American Collateral Buyers, LLC and on September 12, management company Envoy Properties reminded tenants that they had to move out by September 24. The company also offered $3,000 to tenants who abided by the notice, warning them against speaking out on social media or to the press.
In response, however, the residents at Everett Street began making anti-eviction signs and brought out their folding chairs to protest. Dieu Pham, a 70-year-old tenant at the property told the LAist, “I feel like I’m fighting for my rights, for my home.”
As of now, these tenants’ Change.org petition titled “Stop the Evictions of Refugee Immigrant Tenants in Los Angeles Chinatown” has over 1,200 signatures, with a 1,500 goal.
Charisse Pham, grand-niece of Dieu Pham, stepped in to help her family after hearing of their despair.
Pham believed that her great-aunt was being exploited, saying, “Most landlord think: ‘Oh, we’re Asian. You know, Asian not going to fight back… If I give them a notice and they’re just gonna leave because I don’t speak English. No one going to help them.”
Charisse reached out to Chinatown Community for Equitable Development and the tenants and activists took the fight straight to Lalit Kothari, owner of American Collateral.
The protesters chanted outside of Kothari’s home, asking him to open his doors and reason with the tenants and take their rent checks. Kothari eventually stepped out of the residence, along with his wife and two police officers but only to deny any involvement with the evictions. Instead, he blamed the situation on his estranged son.
Several days later, however, tenants received a piece of good news in the mail — a letter from Envoy Properties, giving instructions on how the residents can pay their rent. And on October 5, Pham and a group of other tenants at Everett were able to drive 20 minutes to Envoy’s offices to pay their rents.
While many vulnerable tenants facing eviction threats across cities like Los Angeles have not been met with the same fortune, it appears the residents at Everett, including Pham, can rest for the time being as their hard work has paid off for now.