LA CAN was formed in 1999 when 25 residents of Downtown LA came together and acknowledged the problems that existed in their community and made a commitment to do something about those problems: to stand together, organize and become a force in the community that demands change.
In our early years, we were originally focused mostly on issues related to civil rights and preventing the criminalization of poverty, which remains a core project. Over the years, we added core projects addressing women’s rights (2001), the human right to housing (2002), and healthy food access (2004). LA CAN also has projects focused on economic development, civic participation and voter engagement, and community media.
While Downtown LA remains our home base, with a particular emphasis on the Skid Row community, in 2007 we expanded our housing and healthy food access work into South Central Los Angeles. Approximately 25% of our membership now lives in South Central LA.
LA CAN believes that power for low-income people and people of color is achieved through a large, active, and well-informed member base that utilizes a multitude of methods to advance our messages and goals. We have continued to build capacity and power over our history by actively recruiting new members on a weekly basis, retaining members through creative opportunities and benefits of membership, engaging in political education and regular leadership development activities, being present and active in every community or public decision-making process, participating in strong coalitions with shared principles, advancing bold demands and solutions, and by engaging in strategic negotiation processes only when power and influence has been established up front.
LA CAN has been a strong and visible leader in promoting and defending human rights in Downtown and South LA, with additional impacts regionally, nationally and internationally. Just a few of our victories and impacts include:
- Reversed the Community Redevelopment Agency’s City Center Redevelopment Plan – the original, unanimously approved plans to remove almost 3,000 affordable housing units were changed to include a “no net loss” policy for all affordable housing, additional residential hotel protections, and local hiring policies. 2002 – 2006
- Created and launched CommunityWatch, a police monitoring and anti-gentrification project with trained LA CAN members as an alternative security presence in our neighborhood, which has prevented and reduced human and civil rights violations by LAPD and private security against poor and homeless people. 2005 – present
- Successfully organized and advocated for a Citywide Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance, a culmination of a series of building-specific campaigns and lawsuits, resulting in preserving more than 18,000 low-income housing units in the City of LA and re-claiming more than 2,000 homes that were scheduled for conversion. 2006 – 2008
- Elevated LA CAN’s work and Los Angeles housing rights violations to the international level, via serving as the LA host for the first ever U.S. investigation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate housing, an invitation for long-time Skid Row community member Deborah Burton’s testimony to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland and a special inquiry by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders calling for an end to the retaliation against LA CAN member General Dogon. 2009-2012