December 20, 2017

AFTER THEIR EVICTION FROM PUBLIC HOUSING, ANA CRUZ AND HER THREE SONS FIND REASON TO CELEBRATE

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L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin and People Organized for Westside Renewal tried to stop city public housing officials from evicting Ana Cruz and her children after Cruz’s husband racked up $10,000 in back rent and abandoned the family Photo by Jacqueline García / POWER

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin and People Organized for Westside Renewal tried to stop city public housing officials from evicting Ana Cruz and her children after Cruz’s husband racked up $10,000 in back rent and abandoned the family
Photo by Jacqueline García / POWER

By Gary Walker

The poet T.S. Eliot wrote that April was the cruelest month. But for Ana Cruz, it was October.

That’s when the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles evicted Cruz and her three sons from their home of nine years in the Mar Vista Gardens public housing complex, despite interventions by L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin and the grassroots advocacy group People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER).

The city agency moved to evict Cruz after her husband racked up $10,000 in back rent and abandoned the family, leaving them on the brink of homelessness.

“I had no idea where I’d go,” she said. “All my friends were in Mar Vista Gardens.”

But POWER and Bonin didn’t give up, and now Cruz and her boys once again have a place to call their own. On Dec. 1 they moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Baldwin Hills. It’s smaller than their three-bedroom Mar Vista Gardens apartment was, but they are together — and Cruz says that’s what important.

“We found it at the right time, with the holidays almost here,” she said.

Cruz is undocumented but her children are American citizens, and their eviction dramatized the kinds of problems families of mixed citizenship face when navigating local government and the criminal justice system.

During the eviction process, Cruz told The Argonaut and those trying to help her that she had been a victim of domestic violence for two decades but was afraid to go to the police for help because of her immigrations status.

The city’s public housing agency does not provide housing subsidies for noncitizens. Because Cruz’s family is a mix of citizens and noncitizens, they paid a pro-rated rent higher than neighboring families whose members are all citizens, whose rents are capped at 30% of the family’s income.

It also didn’t help that Cruz’s husband racked up a bunch of fees for underreporting the income on which the agency based the family’s pro-rated monthly rent.

The nonprofit Eviction Defense Network represented Cruz during the eviction proceedings. Eviction Defense Network Executive Director Elena Popp petitioned the housing authority to grant Cruz an extension, saying the policy of prorating rents based on citizenship “runs counter to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, which states tenants should only pay 30% of their income in rent.”

It didn’t work.

“They threw me out like I was a criminal. They wouldn’t let my kids go back in to get their clothes when they came home from school,” Cruz recalled.

But Daisy Fuentes, a Mar Vista Gardens resident and member of POWER, helped Cruz take possession of important belongings and move them into storage. POWER paid the storage bill while the family roomed with friends in Culver City during Cruz’s search for a new apartment. Bonin wrote letters endorsing Cruz and explaining her predicament, which she took with her on visits to potential landlords.

“It’s hard to find housing on the Westside. An immigrant single mother with children needs a lot of help, so my office tried to help however we could,” Bonin said.

Cruz is thankful for the help she received and is looking forward to a brighter future.

“I feel so much better,” she said. I’m less anxious, and I feel a lot stronger.”