History of LA CAN
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.
Our overarching social change goals are to:
- Organize and empower community residents to work collectively to change the relationships of power that affect our community.
- Create an organization and organizing model that eradicate the race, class, gender barriers that are used to prevent communities from building true power.
- Eliminate the multiple forms of violence used against and within our community to maintain status quo.
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.
This timeline highlights just some of LA CAN's major housing campaigns and victories
LA CAN identifies widespread practice of illegal displacement and coins term for this practice: the "28-day shuffle." LA CAN members begin outreach and education to all impacted tenants, file mass complaints to the City's Housing DEpartment, and meet with officials about solving the problem. State and local ordinance are revised in 2004 and 2005, creating new enforcement mechanisms to effectively end the 28-day shuffle.
LA CAN member files lawsuit against CRA on behalf of all low-income residents of downtown LA. LA CAN begins organizing residents around five core principles for fair redevelopment - No displacement, Increase affordable housing, local hiring opportunities, wealth building opportunities, and increased park/green space.
LA CAN launches community housing rights "teach-ins." LA CAN develops easily accessible tenant rights materials and helps tenants to access complaint and compliance processes - collectively targeting particularly problematic buildings and landlords.
LA CAN responds to 100 illegal evictions at the Bristol Hotel, which is emptied to make way for a proposed conversion to a “boutique” hotel. Organizers find that dozens of households have been forced to move with just a couple of days’ notice—some removed at gunpoint.
Tenants and LA CAN file a lawsuit against the owner for lack of proper notice and lack of relocation payments. All tenants are compensated for relocation and damages, the CRA rejects the “boutique hotel” conversion, and the building is re-opened as 102 units of very low-income housing in 2010.
LA CAN establishes a weekly legal clinic in partnership with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles to respond to tenant rights violations, illegal evictions, and other growing displacement pressures. The clinic is staffed by trained LA CAN members, with ongoing cross-training between Legal Aid and LA CAN. The clinic helps define LA CAN’s community lawyering model. Community lawyering = residents, organizers and lawyers working together as peers to address community problems identified by low-income community members.
LA CAN organizes Alexandria Hotel tenants to preserve affordability and prevent displacement. After an initial victory in ensuring redevelopment funds would be used to preserve affordability, the building’s conditions deteriorate with tenants often without hot water or elevator service in a 12-story building, and illegal management practices begin. Tenants organize to hold the redevelopment agency accountable and file federal lawsuit, resulting in a 2009 settlement agreement restoring healthy and safe conditions, compensation to harmed tenants, and the right to return for those illegally evicted.
LA CAN’s organizing battles to defend low-income residents’ right to remain in a gentrifying downtown culminate with the passage of the strongest housing preservation ordinance in Los Angeles’ history. On May 6, 2008, the City Council passed the “Residential Hotel Unit Conversion and Demolition Ordinance”, which permanently preserves more than 15,000 homes for LA’s lowest income tenants throughout the City. Almost 9,000 of those homes were in downtown Los Angeles, reversing plans to convert or remove thousands of units and cause mass displacement.
LA CAN establishes a new public housing committee, organizing tenants to prevent privatization of public housing and improve the health and safety conditions in their homes. With LA Human Right to Housing Collective partners, 2010 and 2011 plans to privatize public housing are prevented.
Reversed a unanimously-passed redevelopment plan, preventing displacement for almost 9,000 low-income households in the heart of a gentrifying downtown
Significantly improved health and safety conditions in more than 2,000 homes previously in slum conditions
Eliminated the guest fee practice in more than 2,500 homes, saving tenants from an unjust charge just to have family, friends and caregivers visit
Organized community-lawyering projects that resulted in 2.84 million dollars going directly to low-income people in compensation for illegal actions and establishing the right to return for more than 500 illegally displaced tenants