Stadiums, art museums, high-end restaurants, luxurious condos – the telltale signs of gentrification.
Gentrification begins when wealthy individuals – gentrifiers – move into low-income neighborhoods and begin to invest in those areas for profit. The increased property values result in higher rent prices, which in turn force poorer residents out of the neighborhood.
It’s become an epidemic in key areas across Los Angeles, including Echo Park, Highland Park, Boyle Heights, Venice and downtown. And it will continue to spread if the city does not do something about it.
In order to minimize gentrification, it is vital for the city government to allow residents in vulnerable areas to participate in the planning and approval process of development projects to ensure that their concerns are being taken into account. More importantly, the city needs to halt some distribution of building permits for luxury housing and guarantee the city’s affordable housing needs are met before running Angelenos into potential poverty.
The effects of gentrification are very real in LA. According to Dana Cuff, UCLA cityLAB director and professor of architecture and urban design, government negligence brings forth two main issues: housing affordability and loss of neighborhood character. The people impacted by gentrification – mostly people of color – are essentially forced to move out of their homes. As a consequence, their neighborhoods lose their cultural identities.
Unfortunately, legal grounds also allow people to suffer from this type of displacement. Landlords can force their tenants out of their homes under the Ellis Act passed by the California State Legislature in 1985, which gives property owners the right to evict their tenants from rent-controlled buildings under the condition that the owners sell their property or convert their units into condos.
However, landlords can violate this law and instead return their property to the rental market for higher prices once their longtime tenants have been evicted. Evictions are then hurled into a domino effect, in which local businesses suffer and community developments become profit-based.
To make matters worse, the Los Angeles City Council has not created specific plans to battle gentrification. Instead, it has tended to irresponsibly create deals with real estate developers before consulting the residents who would be impacted by future projects. In November 2016, for example, the council unanimously approved a $1.2 billion residential, hotel and retail complex, known as the Reef Project, in South LA, despite aggressive opposition by community members who feared displacement.
The Reef Project’s environmental impact report, provided by a consulting agency hired by the LA City Council, failed to address the high possibility of gentrification. However, according to the nonprofit organization Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, the project would increase cost of living for over 43,000 residents living within two miles of the complex. In addition, the environmental impact report provided by the council discouraged community engagement – the 800 pages of legal jargon were only published in English, making it inaccessible to the South LA residents who only speak Spanish.
And this is not the only instance this has occurred. In January, construction began for the massive Los Angeles Stadium in Inglewood, a $2.6 billion project that will certainly cause displacement for those living in its surrounding area.
Nonetheless, by collaborating with residents and practicing transparency throughout the political and planning process of developments, city leaders would be able to create a balance between resident needs and progressive urbanization. Furthermore, the Los Angeles City Council must prioritize building affordable housing over building luxury developments. Many of the apartment and condo structures built in areas like downtown are not created for low-income Angelenos, but rather wealthy people who are detached from the communities they have invaded.
Sponsorship of affordable housing structures in areas vulnerable to gentrification have already proven to be effective in providing families with a stable place to live. Casa Heiwa, an affordable housing structure in Little Tokyo, has done so for more than 20 years. Through government loans and grants, it is able to maintain its long-term affordability.
According to Takao Suzuki, a UCLA alumnus and director of community economic development at the Little Tokyo Service Center, Casa Heiwa provides 100 units of affordable housing and is only available to those who make below 50 percent of the median income in the area.
Casa Heiwa is a prime example of resistance against gentrification, and symbolizes the positive impact government can have on communities if it creates policies that grant the opportunities to build more affordable housing units. Promoting this kind of development would be a huge step in the right direction.
Of course, some may argue that those with a higher income have a right to purchase or rent homes where they please, and that may be true. But that doesn’t excuse city officials from leaving lower-income groups in the dust in favor of luxury developments. Moreover, in a city nearly reaching carrying capacity, placing limitations on development is fair when the livelihoods of citizens are at stake.
As Los Angeles finds a new civic identity in the 21st century, it’s more important than ever that the communities that make our city culturally diverse are preserved and protected. We can no longer push them aside to satisfy the economic incentives of developers and the aesthetic ambitions of detached gentrifiers.