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Residents of 3 LA apartment buildings reach deal to buy homes that Boston University inherited

Tenant Jose Lopez (left) addressed a community rally in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles urging Boston University officials not to sell their buildings to investors, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

More than 100 residents from a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood were worried: Boston University had inherited their four apartment buildings from a wealthy alumnus last year and put them on the market.

Housing costs are soaring in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood, and the residents feared being displaced if BU sold the 1940s-era, two-story properties to for-profit developers. Working alongside a local community land trust that preserves affordable housing, they made an offer to purchase the four buildings last month, though one property was already under contract to another buyer.

After tenants demonstrated outside their homes and marshaled supporters to contact BU leaders, a university spokesman Thursday said the school had “agreed in principle” to the trust’s offer for the remaining three properties.


BU will “now will move forward to work with them on an official purchase and sale agreement,” said Colin Riley, a BU spokesman.

Riley said the properties were donated to BU by Frederick S. Pardee, a BU-trained economist who also ran a real estate management company in LA. Pardee, 90, died in Los Angeles on June 27, according to BU. During his life, he donated about $50 million to BU, where his name graces the Pardee School of Global Studies, and the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future.

Pardee had owned the four LA properties — two eight-unit buildings on Clemson Street and two dozen apartments in a pair of buildings on nearby Corbett Street — for decades, according to county assessor’s records.

The university had been selling the Clemson Street properties together for more than $3.1 million, while one of the Corbett Street buildings was offered for about $2.4 million, according to real estate listings.

Damien Goodmon, secretary-treasurer of Liberty Community Land Trust, the nonprofit working with the residents to acquire the apartment buildings, hailed news of the agreement with BU. But they will continue urging the university to accept their offer for all four buildings, he said.


“We are closely monitoring the fourth apartment building that is home to 12 families, and remain hopeful that should the investor currently in contract not close it will be added to the agreement,” Goodmon said.

Jose Lopez, 50, lives with his 94-year-old father in the building that is under contract to another buyer. BU should prioritize ensuring that the residents of all four buildings are housed, Lopez said.

Many residents have lived in their homes for decades — that includes Lopez, who has been in his building for 20 years, he said.

“There are still nearly 40 people who are in danger of losing their homes. We are not finished. Our mission is that no tenant be left behind,” Lopez said. “I believe that much more can and should be done to ensure that all 130 residents will be protected. They just have to want to do it.”

The tension reflects the fraught concerns some colleges must navigate when deciding what to do with inherited property. In the case of BU, president Robert Brown indicated leaders were listening to the residents of the apartment buildings.

“We are mindful of the concerns you and others have expressed. Please be assured that the purchase proposal from the group representing current tenants will be given full and careful consideration,” according to Brown’s e-mail, which was shared by a tenant with the Globe earlier this week.


Pastor William Smart Jr. (left), president and CEO at Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, addressed tenants in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood during a community rally on Dec. 26.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Soaring housing costs in Baldwin Hills, like the rest of Los Angeles County, over the past several years have increasingly put pressure on lower- and middle-income renters.

Karen Chapple, a professor emerita of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, said the city’s housing challenges are compounded by decades of resistance against building enough homes to meet the needs of its growing population.

That’s caused housing costs to rise — and many of the neighborhoods that attracted working-class residents in years past have become increasingly unaffordable, according to Chapple.

And like other cities, Los Angeles has faced an affordable rental crisis as many would-be homebuyers who are unable to afford a home increasingly turn to rentals, she said.

“We find that [rental] sector is really crowded as people cannot purchase homes, particularly with rising interest rates,” she said. “So that’s really exacerbated the affordable rental crisis.”

The Baldwin Hills residents point to the new Cumulus development as an example of the kind of housing they believe is coming to their neighborhood. The project includes a 31-story building just a few minutes’ walk from their homes, with advertised rents from about $3,000 to upward of $10,000 per month.

By contrast, the Baldwin Hills apartments donated by Pardee to BU have far lower rents: from about $800 to $1,700 a month. Plus they have large yards and common areas for residents, and offer easy access to public transit, jobs, and opportunities for children, residents said.


Residents described a tight-knit, mostly Black and brown community where neighbors look out for one another. Lopez said a neighbor once saw his father suffer from a medical issue while Lopez was at work, and called for help.

“We were able to rush him to that hospital and save his life. If my neighbors weren’t here, if they didn’t care ... I wouldn’t have my dad,” Lopez said. “We depend on each other.”

Kimberly Roberson, 50, who lives in the Corbett Street building included in the agreement between BU and the land trust, said she raised her daughter in the apartment, which was close to her child’s school and a rowing program offered at Marina del Rey.

That athletic program was a crucial step for her daughter, and put her on the path to attending Smith College, Roberson said. Her daughter graduated a few years ago, and now Roberson has been saving for her retirement.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to live in a safe, comfortable place for 25 years,” said Roberson, who pays $1,000 in monthly rent. “So many of us just want an affordable place to live.”

John Hilliard can be reached at