Sun, May

Silverlake Artist’s ‘UpHouse Balloon Project’ Fights Back Against Developers


THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-All over the city, developers are using pretty unscrupulous measures to remove residents from their homes under the pretext of building affordable housing. Throughout Los Angeles, disgruntled activists have been organizing to fight back, collecting signatures for recall petitions and to add initiatives to the ballot. If developers want to change the face of the city, they’ll face some angry voices. 

Perhaps one of the most creative approaches come from Silverlake artist Anne Hars. Through her “UpHouse Balloon Project,” she places bouquets of balloons to mark homes slated for demolition to make way for new luxury housing. 

Anne has launched a Go Fund Me page last month to finance even more balloon bouquets. “The balloon project seeks to ask people to consider the meaning of home and community, the value of our labors, and if we are going to be a caring city – a city of angels, or a city that rewards developers profiteering off homelessness and the housing crisis,” she says. “With your help, I can balloon more threatened rent stabilized homes across Los Angeles and help draw attention to the loss of affordable homes in L.A.” 

Inspired by the Pixar film “Up,” Hars has been installing balloon bouquets on “small-lot plots throughout the areas west of downtown, which are prime for gentrification by over-zealous developers. Many of the small lot plots where Hars places her balloon installations often contain rent-stablized cottages, typically occupied by low income households. 

Developers evict tenants to make way for larger, high density luxury housing developments, which has motivated Anne to do something. She says evicting as many as 64 or more tenants adds to the growing population of Los Angeles homeless, as the tenants aren’t able to afford most of the rents in LA. 

So far, local neighborhood groups have been helping the artist affix balloon bouquets to dozens of homes slated for demolition. 

The areas hit by this new wave of gentrification include Chinatown, Silverlake and Echo Park, where housing values are on the rise while median household wages are stagnant, well below the national average. Many lower-income families can’t afford to pay market value rents; they depend on rent control. Cities with separate municipal governments like Santa Monica or Long Beach have strict rules limiting evictions and new developments but Los Angeles does not. 

The latest area hit by development fever is an original 1934 property in Valley Village and the fate of the property is in the hands of The Cultural Heritage Commission. If the property is not designated as historic, it will be demolished to build a three-story condo, resulting in the destruction of 80-year old trees, as well as the last piece of history on the block. 

The 1934 property is a hub of community education and urban farming. On the other side of the equation sits Urban-Blox, a boutique firm that “works with a select roster of notable architects to develop urban infill properties…dedicated to seeing value where others do not, which often involves re-imagining and redeveloping properties towards new uses, density, or end users,” per the firm’s website. 

If the historical designation is denied, more than 28 small lot houses will be demolished, along with three dozen mature trees -- every square inch of open space. A public street will be vacated and tenants will be evicted from rent-control buildings. The property is across the street from the Dougherty House, which was razed just three days before the property was to be considered as a city Historical Cultural monument. The pair of single story houses that were demolished included a front home built during World War II and the back home believed to have been an early-century gabled farm house and the former home of a young Norma Jean Dougherty aka Marilyn Monroe. 

Like the Dougherty House, the 1934 lot has already been approved for demolition by, yes, you guessed it, Councilmember Paul Krekorian. Currently, residents are in litigation with the property owners over title. Although the property hasn’t yet been sold, plans to develop it are already underway. 

The cozy relationships council members have with developers seems to be behind the wave of gentrification. While the buzzword “affordable housing” is tossed around, tenants are evicted from what was affordable housing to pave the way for McMansions and costly condos. As land values continue to rise in certain neighborhoods, long time tenants are being forced out, hardly helping LA’s affordable housing crisis. 

In the meantime, Anne Hars continues to do her part to make Angelenos aware. Local groups throughout the city contact her with new sites. There are 25 sites on her ever-growing list. She believes developers are “war profiteers.” 

Hars is raising funds through Go Fund Me. For donations ranging from $10 for a Little Bag of Balloons to $65 for a Big Bouquet, Anne will be able to balloon off threatened properties. 

For more information, visit her Go Fund Me site


(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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