This activist, attorney and community organization leader works to keep housing safe and affordable in the neighborhood from which she hails.
Evangeline Ordaz-Molina [LibArts ’86] was born in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, and for much of the past 12 years, she has devoted herself to co-founding and helping build the East Los Angeles Community Corp., a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing affordable housing in that same culturally historic, traditionally immigrant neighborhood.
Today, Ordaz-Molina serves as ELACC’s vice president and general counsel. But long before ELACC’s creation, Ordaz-Molina’s childhood journeys abroad set in motion a lifelong, unflagging interest in aiding others. When Ordaz-Molina was 8 years old, her family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. (Her father worked there for an aircraft contractor.) One day, while running an errand, Ordaz-Molina’s mother left her daughter alone in a vehicle, with a box of snacks to keep her occupied. Beggars approached, en masse.
“I remember just starting to give away crackers, and before I knew it, the car was just mobbed,” Ordaz-Molina says, sitting in the conference room of ELACC’s headquarters, a two-toned green, restored Victorian located in Boyle Heights. “That is a level of hunger and poverty that we will never know in this country. … I think being exposed to that helped me to know that we really have a responsibility.”
That sense of understanding, awareness and responsibility was evident in another story from Ordaz-Molina’s youth. She recalls that while visiting her grandfather in Mexico, a boy about her age came to the door and offered to shine her family’s shoes. While the boy worked, Ordaz-Molina recalls feeling guilty and upset at his family’s poverty. Then, her feelings led her to another step down her own road. “I didn’t create this,” she thought, “but there might be something I can do about it.”
Fast forward to her LMU years, where Ordaz-Molina majored in history and minored in psychology. “I had great professors,” she says, “who really were teaching from that deeper place of, ‘Hopefully, you’re going to take this knowledge and go out and do something positive with it.’ And it wasn’t just knowledge for knowledge’s sake.”
Ordaz-Molina then attended Boalt Hall, the law school of the University of California, Berkeley. Upon graduating, she spent a year working in immigration law and went on to housing law, practicing in eviction defense and anti-slum litigation.
In 1996, Ordaz-Molina and Maria Cabildo co-founded ELACC, with a mission “to produce and preserve quality affordable housing and to nurture community and economic development opportunities.” By 2007, the staff had grown to 27 people. The nonprofit’s promotional materials say ELACC helps 1,200 people annually, free of charge, and has developed more than 360 housing units and secured $58 million worth of housing and community assistance. Thanks to ELACC, for example, a six-unit complex with a community room featuring Web-ready computers has replaced a boarded-up, dilapidated building that was a haven for drug dealers, gang bangers and squatters. ELACC also offers bilingual courses and counseling on financial literacy, homeowner education, foreclosure prevention, urban planning and leadership training.
Ordaz-Molina says her education, as well as her childhood lessons, were crucial to finding her way in the world. She was raised in a “social justice-oriented Catholicism” that drew her to LMU. “The spirituality and the influence,” she says, “is to really support work and a commitment to making the world a better place.”