Gentrification and the Poor in Los Angeles !

Chamba SanchezBy Chamba SanchezOctober 22, 2017
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Major developments started at Downtown and as land became scarce developers started looking for more land into other communities throughout Los Angeles.  Not long ago the “Reef Development” was approved in which developers just sailed through the process with no major obstacles. Even when some activists argued that this Reef development was going to displace at least 40,000 poor renters.  The Councilman and many other community-based organizations they all embraced said development.

Now, a new project called  Macarthur Park luxury development-“The Lake on Wilshire.”  has started its process.  This ambitious development is near McArthur Park and Westlake area and it will build “a 41-story, 478-unit, luxury apartment tower, and a 220-room luxury hotel.” The development has gotten the blessing of the councilperson who represents that area.  It has also gotten the green light from prominent non-profit organizations located in this neighborhood.  Some of them have written letters of support on behalf of the development and attended the public hearing held in City Hall.

This process on the surface appears to be open and inclusive in which community leaders truly engaged and scrutinized the benefits of such development.  Not so, community meetings were held just to project an illusion that a robust dialogue took place among different stakeholders. It was all merely a facade. It is a standard process in which the interest of developers usually tips the scale. Poor renters had no chance.

Advocates who truly represent renters in McArthur and Westlake’s neighborhoods fear that the project above will in some way either directly or indirectly lead to evictions of poor renters.  These neighborhoods have a large percentage of renters, more than 80% living in these communities are renters. And the median income for a family of four is about $24,000. It truly is difficult to fathom as to how a non-profit organization in this area would support or even celebrate this development. These community organizations are conflicted and they are selling out the overall interest of these communities.  A leader with the basic ability to think critically could actually see no benefits from these developments going to the poor people whom they are supposed to represent.

Los Angeles is known as a bastion of social progressivism, one might think that poor renters would have been defended against the powerful economic interests that have been radically changing the physical landscape of the city. As developers tried to cash in the next project whether by building arenas, stadiums, theaters, museums, lofts or condominiums.  Poor renters in Los Angeles were being aggressively displaced and the so-called “liberal” or “progressive” politicians at city hall and many progressive organizations that included labor just looked the other way.

Los Angeles has really become a case study where social justice activists appeared to have turned against the very people who they supposed to protect.  Developers have a lot of resources and they effectively use them to influence politicians at city hall, community-based organizations, consultants and the poets and artists who constantly are looking for gigs to survive in this city.

Developers had it all figured out as to how they can successfully push for developments in Los Angeles.  Any developer who wants to build anything in LA, he or she will first have to see the councilperson who represents the area.  Usually, developers have developed a relationship with the councilmembers. It is rare a fundraising event that they don’t attend.  They also hire consultants who guide them with community groups.  Then, the councilperson makes the case to these developers that the development must have support from the community organizations in the community.  They hint the developers that they need to identify the community groups and that they need to use their resources to have these non-profit people on board. These are starving non-profit organizations that are constantly struggling for funding.  They are too conflicted that they care less if they have to sell-out the very people who they are supposed to help.

These non-profit organizations are the ones that ultimately make the case that development is good for the overall interest of the community.  Some of these people who are behind these non-profits have no qualms in taking humble poor people to testify to city hall on behalf of these developments.   The house of labor is as guilty as these non-profit organizations, developers just raise the flag of jobs and offer unionized construction jobs and labor in LA just rollover. It has been difficult for activists who still lookout for the best interest of the poor to disrupt this corrosive process in which developers dictate whatever they want.

In addition, many evil landlords also concoct well-coordinated schemes to evict renters.  So, a different class of individuals with the ability to pay market rate’s rents could move into their units. Displacement of poor renters in many cities here in California and the nation might really be the civil rights issue of our times.  It disproportionately affects poor Latinos and poor African Americans. It must be traumatizing for these poor renters being forced to leave a community where they had roots and where their children have been raised.

Los Angeles’ landscape has radically changed-there has been this kind of physical renaissance in the city, the Staples Center, the Disney Concert Hall, LA Live, the Broad Museum, and all those luxurious lofts and condominiums have been built in the last two decades.  The promises made by civic leaders that these developments were going to increase civic participation, heal divisions along racial and ethnic lines and bridge the gap in wealth and income facing Angelenos never came to fruition.

Opinions are divided on whether gentrification is a sign of prosperity or a war on working-class people.  It is not difficult to see that all these investments that have gentrified this city having had some sort of a positive impact on the overall quality of life of Angelenos. Many L.A. neighborhoods that were infected with a crime in the 1990s have turned into more livable places.

Buildings, where the poor used to live in these neighborhoods, have been replaced by lofts, upscale newly built homes and condominiums surrounded by Starbucks, yoga studios, trendy restaurants, and bars.  Homeowners in these communities welcome the investments as they saw the fair market value of their homes skyrocketing.   Anyone who drives through Silverlake and Echo Park will see “well-heeled hipsters” as they are being called by those who are resentful as how their communities have been altered.

Our leaders in this city must internalize that the housing crisis must be a vital component of any policy decision or strategy that is taken on in this city.  One with a basic understanding of the needs, priorities, and resources of our city must have some sense that this housing crisis affects all communities in this city on all levels. For starters, this profound crisis affects the business community as employers struggle to find workers and people living in garages or in cars have adverse effects on public health safety.  Poor people unable to find housing they can afford in this city have moved to the dessert either in Palmdale or San Bernardino and have to commute every day to the city to work.  Think about that collective environmental and quality of life repercussions for LA of workers commuting for five hours daily.

Some activists have started pushing back with more militant direct actions.  And, they are targeting galleries and coffee places in Boyle Heights.  Some people including homeowners might not like these tactics being used by these activists. But they had forced a different conversation that might have included the needs of poor renters.

It is not clear how to measure success in this city.  Success shouldn’t be measured by the number of state of the art arenas, theaters, museums, luxurious lofts and condominiums, and stadiums being built or by the Dodgers making it to the world series. Sucess, one fair-justice-minded individual would think,  should be measured by how well our children are doing in school and how we treat the poor.

Thank you for reading.

Sources used.
Khouri, Andrew.  “Southern California apartment rents will keep climbing, the report predicts.” Los Angeles Times 11 Oct. 2017. Web. 22 Oct. 2017.

Lee, Frances. “Why I’ve Started to Fear My Fellow Social Justice Activists.” 13 Oct. 2017. Web 20 Oct. 2017.

Novotny, Ben. “Persistent Gentrification in Long Beach Increases Student Homelessness and debt.” 11 OCT. 2017. Web. 19 Oct. 2017.

Photo Credit:  Took pics on this piece with an iPhone.

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