Flower Drive tenants protest against Ventus Group. (Photo by Justin Gaar)
Megaphone in hand, Abdul Hood turned to face the large Spanish colonial house in Irvine, California, 46 miles away from home in South Central Los Angeles. “We’ve come to your neighborhood like you’ve come to ours,” he declared, addressing Scott Gale — the house’s owner and Ventus Group’s CEO. “We’re coming to you to let you know, we are Flower Drive and we’re staying on our block!”
The executive team behind Ventus Group, Gale and John David Booty, are USC alumni who have since relocated to Irvine to become key decision-makers for the real estate firm. On Saturday, December 11, the Flower Drive Tenants Association commuted to Orange County to protest the erasure of their LA homes in an area in which Ventus Group has no physical foundation. In many ways, it was a formal introduction to the people who made Flower Drive their home.
Hood and his mom moved to Flower Drive in the late 1980s, when he was still in high school. He has always loved living close to the stadiums in Exposition Park. Even though the ticket prices are often too high to afford, he feels like a part of the action when he can listen to a whole concert from his back porch or feel the energy from crowds pouring in for game day.
“We’re right in the center of it,” he says, but Flower Drive still feels “secluded,” the kind of place where residents look out for each other.
(Photo by Justin Gaar)
Many of the roughly 50 protesters were longtime tenants of Flower Drive, where they live in close proximity to USC, LA Memorial Coliseum, and the Bank of California stadium. On game days, thunderous music blasting from the venues drowns out the conversations the tenants have in their homes. On the day of the protest, it was the residents’ turn to make noise — about all the ways that Ventus Group has antagonized them since the real estate investment firm developed a plan to displace low-income tenants from the 65 rent-stabilized apartments on their block.
The protest took place just days after tenants learned that Ventus Group had put Flower Drive’s 3800 block up for sale. After regrouping on Tuesday, December 14, they shared feelings of cautious optimism that the investment firm’s decision to sell is partially a result of their resistance. Though the tenants know any new buyer may continue the effort to push them out, they are here to stay.
On Monday, Gale reached out via email to Los Angeles Tenants Union’s South Central Local after the protest and asked to meet with tenants. Ventus Group did not respond to Knock LA’s requests for comment regarding their former and current plans for the property.
A History of Resistance
(Photo by Justin Gaar)
Inéz Alcazar has lived on the 3800 block of Flower Drive for over 50 years. She remembers being drawn to the place because it was beautiful, clean, and peaceful. Her original landlord was “family-oriented” and even discussed selling the property to the tenants, but things changed when he died. Alcazar claims his successor immediately wanted to raise their rent by hundreds of dollars, trying to justify rent increases as “capital improvements” following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. This gave longtime Flower Drive tenants like Alcazar experience with fighting pressure and harassment from landlords long before Ventus Group even bought the block.
“We did not really know of our rights, we didn’t even know what procedures work, but somehow we ended up in court,” Alcazar recalls.
When Alcazar heard her block was being targeted by Ventus Group, she was already familiar with what would ensue; she had already watched her neighbors undergo a similar transition further south on the nearby 3900 block of Flower Drive. The 3900 block was bought by Ventus Group in 2019 with plans to build “Exposition Point” (formerly “The Fig”), a large complex containing 252 hotel rooms, 252 student housing units, 78 mixed-income apartments, retail, and office space. It anchors Ventus Group’s assemblage of a total of 7.8 acres of land into mixed-use development projects. Although the eight fourplexes of the 3900 block provided rent-stabilized homes for 32 families and the buildings were registered as a historic district, in 2019 LA’s City Council approved a plan that would allow Ventus Group to demolish them all.
Alcazar attended block meetings as residents on the 3900 block tried to organize their resistance, but she saw how the group failed to come together effectively. “Unfortunately, harassment is really hard to resist,” she says, “and people […] felt very vulnerable because they didn’t know their rights.” Alcazar observed that Ventus Group singled out individual residents — calling them day and night — and convinced them to take a cash offer in exchange for their departure.
Ultimately, she says, some of her neighbors accepted a lump sum of $50,000 to leave.
“Fifty-thousand dollars doesn’t take you anywhere, not even to the next block,” says Alcazar, alluding to LA’s increasingly high housing prices. She remains in touch with a few former tenants who she says regret leaving because they’ve struggled to find equivalent rent-stabilized options.
After Ventus Group purchased the 3800 block, the firm targeted Alcazar and her neighbors with an intense cash-for-keys program as well. Prior to the recent decision to sell, Ventus Group hoped to turn the property into a new student housing project near USC. Now, the group’s sales pitch touts the area’s attractions — from the Olympic-caliber sporting venues to entertainment hubs such as the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art — and suggests prospective buyers can continue the project of removing current tenants and replacing them with higher-paying USC students. The latter would appeal to new buyers who want to accelerate the move-out process of the tenants in the remaining 39 non-empty units with voluntary move-out agreements.
The Resistance of the Tenants Association
Residents of the 3800 block are determined to avoid the same fate of the 3900 block.
On March 2021, they joined the Los Angeles Tenants Union and formed the Flower Drive Tenants Association. They organized weekly bilingual meetings for neighbors and community members to share information, articulate demands, and strengthen their resolve to fight. From these gatherings, members decided early on to reject Ventus Group’s cash-for-keys offers. They also contacted City Council member Curren Price Jr.’s office to ask for the elected official’s public support of the tenants or to oppose their evictions, but details subsequently emerged that Price Jr. had accepted campaign donations from both Gale and Ventus Group. The city had hung the Flower Drive Tenants Association out to dry, and they would need a strategy centered on building power among themselves.
Source: LA City Ethics Ethics Commission Public Portal
Since its formation, Flower Drive Tenants Association members have used their meetings to support each other on subsequent issues, such as establishing terms for film and food truck companies working next to their homes, and providing guidance on how to address management’s suite of harassment tactics. Their active list of demands includes a rejection of Ventus Group’s various intimidation tactics: entering and inspecting people’s homes without taking adequate safety measures during a pandemic; turning off tenants’ water; photographing activities and spaces without permission; and attempting to remove the Flower Drive Tenants Association’s defiant “Here to Stay” lawn signs.
The Flower Drive Tenants Association has even extended invites to residents on nearby blocks to share their own landlord issues — such as ongoing construction’s effects on residents’ asthma and respiratory conditions. The Flower Drive Tenants Association has also met with residents who are fighting displacement near SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, in order to share experiences and tactics.
The shadow that Ventus Group has cast upon the Flower Drive blocks is a presage for how events like the 2028 Olympics (which will also have a large presence near University Park) will continue to pressure longtime residents from their homes. As Alcazar says, “This is happening to us, but this is not only happening to us. It’s happening all over LA. […] Every time [any city] has an Olympics, they do something in some communities to displace whoever’s in the way.”
(Photo by Justin Gaar)
For the Flower Drive Tenants Association, resistance has also looked like celebration. Many of the neighbors attend monthly community clean-ups where they rid their block of litter that the city’s street services overlook, an act to return their bucolic neighborhood to the state Alcazar remembers from her arrival. In September, tenants organized a block party in honor of the Independence Day of multiple Central American countries — countries from which some of them emigrated. They support each other outside of day-to-day uncertainties, as Downtown Los Angeles and University Park are solidified as attractions for higher-income individuals and tourists.
Abdul Hood’s sense of community care grew from belonging to a tenants association as well. When his mom passed away earlier this year, he received a notice demanding that he leave the property because the unit was rented under his mom’s name and ensnared in the bureaucratic net of her Section 8 housing status. Despite the particular precarity of Hood’s situation, Tenants Association members repeatedly stated in meetings that they would fight for his right to stay as much as anyone else’s. Hood describes Alcazar, who saw him as a teenager, as a “mother figure” who checked on him and encouraged him to attend meetings, even when his situation was disheartening. Like so many other Flower Drive tenants, Hood knows that if he is forced to leave he will not be able to replace that sense of community or the energy of the neighborhood that he loves.
Through Saturday’s protest, the tenants made sure that they were both seen and heard, with protest signs, sidewalk chalk, and chants declaring: “Here to stay! Cease and desist! Flower Drive will resist!” Though the future of their block remains uncertain, the Flower Drive Tenants Association wants prospective buyers to take note: they are organized, they are not interested in cash-for-keys offers, and they are ready to keep fighting for their right to remain.
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