A Garcia / SFVS

Elva Flores' 14-year-old daughter, Jacqueline Carrillo, holds a sign denouncing their eviction from San Fernando Gardens housing complex

While families all over the San Fernando Valley hustle to purchase toys and gifts ahead of Christmas, Elva Flores, an unemployed mother whose only income comes from collecting recyclables, is facing the uncertainty of where she will be staying by the end of this year.

After more than 20 years of renting an apartment at the San Fernando Gardens housing complex in Pacoima, Elva Flores and her family are being evicted.

She says it was because she didn’t pay the electric bill. Neighbors who are also concerned with their ability to pay rent increases protested the family’s impending displacement.

“My income is not enough,” Flores says, tears running down her cheeks. “Where am I going to live with my family? Please, don’t evict me.”

For several months, Flores — who receives some social assistance for her US-born children — was unable to pay her utilities, and the debt has ballooned to over $5,000, she admits.

She said she did everything possible to keep paying the $357 monthly rent at the San Fernando Gardens. But, according to her, the electricity debt was reason enough for HACLA (Housing Administration of the City of Los Angeles), the agency that administers the housing complex, to take her to court to begin eviction proceedings.

Her pleas were not enough to dissuade authorities from going forward and a judge sided with HACLA.

Now Flores and her family — which includes two minors — are at the mercy of the authorities.

“I’m not a criminal, I’m not a thief,” Flores said. “I’m here (at San Fernando Gardens) because of necessity.

“I don’t want to be one more ‘homeless.’ I’m already evicted. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Several other eviction attempts

Flores said she’s been part of the housing complex Resident Advisory Council for several years and has been an outspoken defendant of other residents. She believes the criticism she’s levied against the administration over the years is also behind the eviction.

This wasn’t the first attempt. In fact, it was the fifth. Previous attempts to remove her were based on reports on the cleanliness of her unit, she said. She always appealed and won.

But not this time. And the insecurity about her and her family’s future has brought Flores to a standstill.

Inside their humble apartment there are no beds — the family can’t afford them, Flores said — and her daughter Jacqueline Carrillo’s 14th birthday was nothing to celebrate.

“I already packed everything,” a soft-spoken and sad Carrillo said. “We’re trying to know where we’re going to live.”

Agency “Following HUD’s Rules”

Martin Peery, director of Housing Services for HACLA, said in an email that the court record on Flores’ case was sealed and “confidentiality law restrictions on the Housing Authority’s program participants do not allow me to offer specific information on our program participants.”

He added that “as a federally subsidized program, the Housing Authority operates under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is subject to its rules. Those rules include the timely processing of evictions for non-compliant participants…Failure for the Housing Authority to properly administer the program puts our funding eligibility in jeopardy, which would have a negative impact to all assisted families.”

Peery noted in the statement that “all of our families facing eviction have either failed to adhere to multiple attempts at gaining compliance or have committed an act egregious to the point of jeopardizing the safety and well-being of other residents in the community.  Even then, all evictions are adjudicated properly and given the opportunity to defend themselves in the court of law.”

Against Immigrant Families

Marisela Garcia Perez is not facing eviction. But she, too, is worried about her future, specifically how she will pay her increased rent.

The mother of a 28-year-old and an 18-year-old disabled son will have to start paying $693 a month next year, up from the $459 she pays currently.

That may not be much for someone with a job, but Perez’ only income comes from the $815 she receives in assistance for her son and what she manages to make selling cans and bottles.

“And right now the weather doesn’t allow you to work too much,” she says of picking up recyclables.

“They want us out of here any way possible,” she complains.

The cases of Flores and Garcia Perez are not unique, say activists with People Organized for Westside Removal (POWER).

They note that HACLA is charging an estimated 2,000 to 6,500 mixed immigration status families (parents who are undocumented and children born in the United States) more than 30 percent of their income for rent.

“Despite being low-income and qualified to live in Public Housing, these families do not receive the full rental subsidy from HUD,” said Trinidad Ruiz of POWER. “For families of mixed immigration status, the stark choice to pay the rent or pay the utilities or food or clothing is almost always an ‘either/or’ choice because of HUD’s and HACLA’s unfair and discriminatory rent calculation policy.”

As thousands of mixed-status families in public housing approach the holidays, they face the same stark reality: pay half or more of their income for rent and divide what’s left among utilities, food, transportation, medicine, and clothing for the family, Ruiz said.

“Public housing is no longer an institution that does its best to house the poor but instead goes out of its way to evict the most vulnerable onto the streets,” he added.