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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

It was a house for decades, but it was only legal for a few months.

As a designer specializing in residential buildings, Luis Martinez lived at home and has now made it his career. His design business, Studioo15, has grown dramatically in the past two years as Los Angeles residents used new state laws to add thousands of backyard apartments. Nevertheless, he said, about half of his clients are people like his parents who want the existing divisions to be legalized.

Bernardo and Tomas Martinez, in their early 60s, immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico in 1989. Working in a low-wage service industry, she was a waitress; he worked as a laborer loading a truck – they settled in a two-bedroom house in South Los Angeles, which had four families and 16 people. Luis Martinez, who crossed the border as a child, was surrounded by love and family in a home where money was scarce and solitude did not exist.

The family eventually managed to buy a small three-bedroom apartment in Boyle Heights, east Los Angeles. It is set in a block of wilting houses that have mesh fences in the front and a separate garage in the back. To supplement the family income, the Martinez converted the garage into a rental unit without permission. Bernardo Martinez and a group of local craftsmen raised the floor and installed plumbing to the main house, while Luis helped with the painting.

Louis recalls that no one complained, probably because the neighbors did the same. “It was okay,” he said, “like ‘I live in a garage,’ and some garages were better than others.”

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Mr. Martinez attended East Los Angeles College after graduating from high school, then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his degree in architecture in 2005. Years after graduation, when the Great Recession hit, his father lost his job and, after a period of unemployment, took a minimum-wage job, mowing the lawn on the golf course. To help pay the bills, they rented out the garage to Bernardo Martinez’s brother for $ 500 a month. With minimum wage, you cannot afford to pay mortgages and food for everyone, ”said Tomas Martinez.

The essence of informal housing is that it’s hard to see – it’s built to elude the zoning authorities or anyone else who might spot it from the street.

Jake Wegmann, professor of urban planning at the University of Texas at Austin, describes this as “horizontal density,” referring to extensions that use driveways and courtyard space instead of going up to the second or third floor. Since neither the tenants nor the owners of these apartments want to be disclosed, there is essentially no protection on behalf of illegal residents of the housing, even though the number of tenants is easily numbered in the millions across the country.

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