Columnists Opinion

CAPITOL REPORT: Affordable housing remains at a premium in South L.A.

During Black History Month, it’s important to study our past, reflect on our present and project into our future. Housing in South Los Angeles is certainly a subject worthy as any of such examination, which is why this month’s Capitol Report will be dedicated to the past, present and future of this issue that affects so many.

Los Angeles currently has an overall housing vacancy rate of two percent. Angelenos are faced everyday with the reality that having money won’t prevent you from having a challenging time finding housing that you can afford.

As rents increase because of scarce supply, people are finding themselves in increasingly difficult situations. South Los Angeles itself experienced the second highest population growth from 2000 to 2010 out of all regions in L.A.

Right now in our community, we face the tribulations of gentrification. Section 8 voucher holders are being forced to move out of their homes by landlords who purposefully allow buildings to deteriorate and become unsafe, ultimately creating unlivable conditions which then serve as a purpose for eviction.

Landlords know that young people are being priced out of the housing markets outside of South Los Angeles, which means one of their dilapidated buildings is considered prime real estate for the wealthier younger population. Many could buy a mansion in Texas for what they are forced to spend on a smaller one-bedroom in South L.A.

The Trump administration has taken strides to exacerbate this struggle. One of the first acts in his presidency was to suspend a rule that would have reduced the cost of mortgage insurance for first-time low-income homebuyers. Just this week, he proposed an $8.8 billion cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program.

This program is one of the longest-running programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and dedicated to affordable housing and anti-poverty programs.

So how did we get here?

In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Congress to guarantee a basic American right by passing “the first effective federal law against discrimination in the sale and rental of housing in the United States.”

It took Congress two years of increasingly intolerable conditions for African Americans in this country and the assassination of a leader of the civil rights movement, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to act. On a warm afternoon in April 1968, President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act, a bill that contained what he called “the promises of a century.”

In California, we are fortunate to be at the forefront of the progressive movement. Three years before President Johnson even sent his letter to Congress requesting action, then-Assemblyman William Byron Rumford, the first African American elected to a statewide public office in Northern California, introduced AB 1240, now referred to as the Rumford Fair Housing Bill.

After a fierce battle in both the Assembly and State Senate, as well as a successful repeal attempt after the bill was initially signed into law, the Rumford Fair Housing Act was restored in 1966 and is today thought of as one of the most significant laws protecting the rights of people of color when purchasing or renting housing.

The reluctance of Congress to bring a bill to President Johnson’s desk and the long arduous path of the Rumford Fair Housing Bill foreshadowed an incredibly difficult road ahead for implementation in the decades to come.

Today, especially in South Los Angeles, local, state and federal representatives are working to address these continuing disparities.

In November, my office hosted more than 400 constituents at a housing resource fair at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church. We collaborated with representatives from more than 35 service providers, focusing on housing retention, navigating affordable housing wait lists, homelessness prevention and first-time home-buyers, in addition to veteran’s housing and other benefits, home loans, tenants’ rights, independent living for former foster youth and even landlord supports for those willing to help people transitioning out of homelessness.

Some of the attendees are now in the final process of approval for housing at Ward Economic Development Corporation. Three organizations offered job placement assistance on site, so participants could afford to maintain their housing, and others offered health care and access to low-cost child care, to support people in keeping their jobs.

In the coming months, my office will be planning more events about housing and employment services. It’s the historical work of people like Assemblyman Rumford that deserves to be celebrated not just this month, but throughout the year, in addition to the current drumbeat for accessible housing led by Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Black History Month is about celebrating the accomplishments and struggles of black people throughout the history of this country. By breathing life into our history, we learn from both the peaks and valleys of our story and apply them to today. When we do that, we recognize that we’ve been here before, we’ve fought here before, and that we will win again.

Rep. Karen Bass is the congresswoman from California’s 37th District, which includes Culver City, Leimert Park, the Crenshaw District and parts of South Los Angeles. Her Capitol Report column runs monthly in The Wave.