Though renters may feel pressed, landlords feel harried, she said.
"Talk to landlords," she said. "They'll tell you what it's like when somebody says they're a couple, you rent the house to them and then, before you know it, they've got their aunts and uncles and all their cousins living in there with like 11 people. It's unfair."
Renee Chavez, a member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, said the community has the makings of a near-perfect place to live -- if it were not already so overcrowded and if it could be appropriately developed.
Officially, about 89,000 people live in the community's 6.6 square miles, according to the Los Angeles Planning Department. But many residents say that number does not include thousands of illegal immigrants.
"We are in a great location, and everybody knows Boyle Heights is going to be pretty and it's going to happen soon," Chavez said. "But more affordable housing? That's ridiculous. We want a 14-screen beautiful theater with appropriate parking." And stores other than Sears. "I'd love to be able to shop in my own neighborhood, but I don't like polyester," she said.
Even without redevelopment, Boyle Heights is seeing a surge in housing prices as is the rest of Southern California.
Housing prices are up 25% over last year's, and activists say rents are rising just as quickly -- as are evictions.
Last year, the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice saw 225 people fighting evictions in Boyle Heights. In the first six months of this year, 206 people have sought help.
The Eviction Defense Network says its caseload for downtown through East L.A. has more than doubled.
"We're seeing a lot of cases where tenants who apparently were perfectly good tenants for many years suddenly become very bad tenants when a new landlord buys and has a higher mortgage and incentive to get them out," said Executive Director Elena Popp.
Residents also complain that affordability is a relative term. The maximum selling price of an affordable condominium, as determined by the city Housing Department, is $336,000, according to the Community Redevelopment Agency. But a higher-priced unit can qualify as affordable if the CRA can provide a qualified buyer with a second mortgage on easy terms.
Pricing of units in the Sears project has not been determined, said Donald Spivack, deputy chief of operations for the CRA.
Rent to Increase
Sixto Osorio, 36, has run L.A. Cuts, a hair salon on Whittier Boulevard, for 15 years. Until two months ago, he paid $750 a month in rent. But the landlord said he plans to renovate the building and charge $3,000, according to documents Osorio showed. He will move out in August.
The Sears project, Osorio thinks, should make room for the small-business owners who have roots in Boyle Heights.
Tim Meier, director of development for MJW Investments Inc., said the firm has tried to balance community needs with financial realities in the renovation of the 1920s mail-order warehouse, which was closed in 1992.
For two months Meier met with neighborhood groups and parent-teacher groups, the Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce, Mothers of East L.A., Homeboy Industries, churches and numerous other groups.
"We heard everything," he said. "We heard, 'We need affordable housing, we need family-style housing, we need senior housing.' One of the largest voices we heard was, 'We need housing for young professionals.' Obviously we need to create a project that is going to try to address everybody's needs."
Times staff writer Daniel Hernandez contributed to this report.