Growing Gentrification Concerns As L.A. Residents May Have to Dig Deep to Stay
Despite opposition from members of the community, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a $1.2 billion hotel, housing, and retail project to break ground in South Central LA.
With a 12-0 vote, the proposal passed last November to devel- op The Reef project–a massive undertaking that support- ers say will transform the blighted area below the 10 Freeway, and create nearly 900 new job opportunities.
The Reef covers two city blocks south of downtown Los Angeles on Washington Boulevard to the north, 21st Street to the south, Hill Street to the west, and Main Street to the east – separated by Broadway.
According to the project’s dedicated website (www.reef- projectla.com), The Reef will roll-out 895 luxury condo- miniums, 528 apartments, a 208-room hotel, grocery store, pharmacy, multiple restaurants, a fitness studio, art gallery and parking for both cars and bicycles.
Fears and frustration have been mounting that the high-end development will dramatically hike living costs in the area and force out several thousand residents. The United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD), a local coalition that appealed the project, argue that the city has not properly assessed the econom- ic impact of the project, and the organization reports an estimated 43,000 residents could be displaced.
Last year, in heated hearings at City Hall, South Central residents complained that the project would speed up gentrification and attract new residents who have been priced out of downtown Los Angeles, Echo Park and Silver Lake, and ultimately push poorer people fur- ther away from South LA.
“The fact that developers are coming into formerly under-served areas I think is a good thing,” said City Councilman Curren Price of the 9th District. “Some peo- ple say it’s regentrification. I call it revitalization. But we don’t want only market rate housing, we want affordable housing. There has to be a balance and that has to be the task of not only elected officials, but community folks who are expressing concerns.”
Price said there are thirteen sites that have been iden- tified in District 9 that provide over 700 units of new affordable housing for families. Some of these develop- ments are already being occupied while others are break- ing ground this year and in 2018. They’re making afford- able housing possible for families along the Blue Line,
community living for seniors and even a veteran’s liv- ing community with wrap around services.
Fact is, the resiliency of Los Angeles continues to be tested. This time it’s neither an earthquakes or rioting - but LA is up against a shortage of housing and more than brick and mortar is being demanded to satisfy those who want to move in, as well as long- time residents who are feeling threatened.
Accommodating the population growth is going to mean increased density in Los Angeles. Real estate developers are hoping their proposed new plans will address the shortfall by erecting massive tall build
ings with apartments, condos and shopping centers in neighborhoods long characterized by affordable homes and living standards.
In Inglewood, there are plans for 3000 market rate luxury apartments at the Rams Stadium/Hollywood Park Development. In Boyle Heights, there are 4,400 luxury apartments going up, and in the Crenshaw/ Leimert Park area – in addition to the renovation and expansion of the mall – a new hotel, and nearly 1,000 all luxury apart- ments and condos are to be constructed.
As a renter in the Leimert Park community Damien Goodmon is also the Executive Director of the nonprofit Crenshaw Subway Coalition (CSC). The organization empowers stakeholder groups in the Crenshaw, Leimert Park, and Hyde Park areas to highlight the issues of equi- table and community-centered transportation planning to achieve racial and economic justice for South Los Angeles.
Goodmon argues that there are many LA residents who are faced with their home values and rents starting to triple. He’s contends that the market rate big-project developments are presenting “ramifications that are being felt far and wide.”
“What we’re seeing is homes in Liemert Park that went for $200,000 are now going for $700,000,” Goodmon reports. “Homes that were bought by teachers and other public sector workers – not managers – just regular old folk, are unaffordable now. What gets lost is our political power, our social institutions, our churches, and our Community based organizations when people are pushed out.”
Moreover, Goodmon goes on to stress, “The fear at least for myself and others that represent the black com- munity in LA is the cultural and economic commerce cen- ter in the Crenshaw corridor, and Inglewood as well. If we don’t take – not these miniscule actions – but concrete actions within this time frame, we’ll lose [that heritage].”
Price concurs that housing costs are rising in Los Angeles and he is sensitive to those who are expressing worry about the potential displacement of low income res- idents. “The cost of living is going up everywhere and not just in South LA,” asserts Price. “It’s a reality that we all are confronting.”
Additional Los Angeles developments on the horizon include the 30-story Cumulus Skyscraper that will add 1,200 luxury units at La Cienega and Jefferson.
Paul Ong, director of UCLA Luskin’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and a professor of urban plan- ning, says there's been a strong interest lately in neigh- borhoods near subway and light-rail stops. "These loca- tions have the potential for extensive private investments because transit gives people an alternative to using cars. This is particularly attractive to today’s young profession- als," he said.
One of Ong’s major findings was that areas around transit stations are transforming, and that these trans- formations are often, "in the direction of neighborhood upscaling and gentrification."
These changes bring in more white, college-educated people and higher rents, and often result in the displacement of "disadvantaged populations," which includes residents with low-incomes and less than a high-school diploma.
Rising rents have been a leading cause in L.A.’s declin- ing black population as Latinos now comprise the major- ity in communities that were once majority black and with two light rail transit lines running through it, cul- tural landmarks like Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills and View Park—characterized as the black Beverly Hills) are experiencing an influx of whites—priced out of the Westside— that has led to rising tension.
“I’m sick of them walking their babies, riding their bicycles, and because in many cases they’re willing to pay more, they’re driving up the prices even more,” said one resident who preferred to remain anonymous.
Meanwhile, whites who joined a local jogging club were mocked by some black residents as they jogged past and a photo of four white women in a car heading to the nearby Crenshaw mall sparked internet debate.
“Within the last five years, the area has been diversi- fying”, observed realtor Janet Singleton. “The location is prime and it’s the best price per square foot. In fact, it’s the last best deal in the city and it’s understandable some blacks might want to keep the community the way it’s been culturally. They’ve been proud all their lives to be able to say that this community of beautiful homes and architecture is their community.”
Ong said that most of those who can afford higher housing costs do not purposefully want to displace people living in poorer households, “but, nonetheless, gentrifiers are a part of the larger socioeconomic process.” The goal of the Urban Displacement Project, according to the researchers, is not to stop neighborhood change because many people can benefit from these developments. “The challenge,” Ong said, “is ensuring that progress is fair and just.”
“From an economics perspective growth is good,” said Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who agrees that “the price of housing is becoming too expensive par- ticularly for people who already live in LA, and more par- ticularly people who are Generation X and Millennials.”
“The question is what kind of growth,” Ridley-Thomas said. “You have to produce more housing to stabilize the
costs. The more you produce the less there is in the way of increased prices. The key to it all is making sure that those who are of limited financial means are not exclud- ed from new developments, and that’s the challenge.”
“The concern I have” adds Price, “is that we may have citizens in the district who will not take advantage of these new developments. I am pushing for job training and employment and making sure our public-sector facil- ities are up to speed and that the streets are clean and that we are creating an environment that will be con- ducive for people to invest their private-sector dollars.”
Price also said that the message he is sending to devel- opers is that he wants to ensure that the people in the community as we know are going to benefit from these upgrades and improvements. Therefore, he says part of the plan is always to enter in to development agreements that will allocate a percentage of the project to affordable housing units, as well as offer funds to address employ- ment training and youth needs in the community.
Developers of the Reef committed to the city that they would set aside 5% of the rental units for low-income housing. In addition, they agreed to establish a $15 mil- lion affordable housing fund and give an additional $3 million to community organizations for youth programs, job training and violence prevention initiatives. Still opponents say the developer’s concessions are not enough and are asking for 50% of the units to be affordable hous- ing. There is also speculation that the City of Los Angeles was quick to approve the project before the implementa- tion of Measure JJJ, a ballot measure approved by LA voters requiring residential developers to make 20 per- cent of all condominiums and 11-25 percent of apart- ments in their buildings affordable. None of the condos at The Reef will be designated affordable.
“This is why displacement from one's home is a pri- mary driver of our growing homeless population because families already living on the edge are pushed beyond the brink,” said Joe Donlin, Director of Equitable Development for Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, a local nonprofit organization that advocates for economic justice and tenant rights in South Los Angeles.
Escalating the dissention even further are concerns that the project’s gentrification of the neighborhood will make life for those who can afford to stay more challeng-
ing in other ways. Lower income residents fear they will be profiled so that higher income residents will be made to feel more safe and comfortable.
“Seldom do we talk about how new developments often contribute to increased policing and criminalization of Black, Latino and homeless residents,” Donlin continued. Further, growing business improvement districts also add additional layers of security and can call upon LAPD to expand their patrol resources. While this can be reassur- ing to some, it is clear that this has resulted in increased police brutality against – and incarceration of – Black and Latino members of our community.”
“It’s ridiculous to think that you just have to build more houses and that the housing prices will come down. That’s trickled down housing theory and it never works,” Goodmon says. “It’s been a decision made by global capi- tal powers to invest in speculative real estate markets and it’s resulting in increased housing prices everywhere. Now we in LA feel it intensely. There are even middle class white people can’t afford to live in the city.”
Through the work that Goodmon is engaged in at the CSC he hopes to influence residents to recognize the value of not just their individual homes but the value of their entire community. “We demand that new develop- ments be based on a principal of community wealth,” says Goodmon. “Community economic development typically only favors a few and it frequently will bring in multina- tional corporations that at best provide poverty level wages. [We insist upon] community wealth building where the community has ownership now and the future.”
“For all the neglect from the public and private sector that our communities of color – specifically our cultural center like Leimert Park and Borough Heights – have endured, there is still a sense of community among them,” Goodmon said. “We come from these communities and there is great pride in what we have built.”
“Los Angeles is experiencing unprecedented growth,” Ridley-Thomas offers. “It would be irresponsible if we left the least of these behind or if we forgot the historic com- munities that have made this region so culturally rich. I believe there is a great opportunity and a bit of a chal- lenge. I would rather be in an era of growth than an era of stagnation.”