LEIMERT PARK — The topic was gentrification or, more to the point, resisting gentrification.
An estimated 700 people from all walks of life came together at Audubon Middle School Dec. 2 to discuss the housing crisis and other issues of concern at the Resist Gentrification Action Summit.
Those in attendance were a mix of local residents, and representatives of more than 40 tenant rights, civil rights, faith-based and social justice organizations.
The daylong summit began with an opening session that asked what is gentrification? It concluded at 6 p.m. with a closing unity panel summing up key strategies and plans for the upcoming year.
“You pushed us into this ghetto, and you can’t have it back,” said organizer and Crenshaw Subway Coalition founder Damien Goodmon to a packed auditorium during the opening.
Goodmon talked about examples of gentrification in Boyle Heights and South L.A. and also touched on the history of black wealth suppression in America.
Other speakers included Elena Popp, executive director of the Eviction Defense Network, Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, and Lydia Ponce of American Indian Movement SoCal.
The summit continued with morning and afternoon breakout sessions held in various rooms around the school. They included building tenant power, stopping the criminalization of black youth, ensuring wealth transfers and community land trusts.
“The purpose of this summit is to unify the groups, so we can tackle the most urgent effort to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Act,” said Arielle Sallai, communications specialist for Housing is a Human Right.
Among the groups that convened were the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment – Los Angeles, Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance, CDTech, Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Eviction Defense Network, Fannie Lou Hamer Institute, and Los Angeles Community Action Network.
César Castrejón, of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment- Los Angeles (ACCE), found the summit to be constructive.
“I was able to reconnect with a lot of familiar faces and I’m excited the energy is building up,” Castrejón said. “There is a lot of momentum and I think next year is critical to us in capitalizing on the multiple issues that are affecting all of us; even if I wasn’t doing this for a living I would be involved somehow.”
During the building tenant power session, someone asked what a person can do if they live in really bad conditions but are scared to stand up to the landlord.
Popp also spoke at this session and she informed the room that tenants have rights, even if you are undocumented. A tenant should show they have legal support and help from an organization like the Los Angeles Tenants Union.
“Housing is a basic need and it should be a fundamental human right and it isn’t,” Popp said. “We can’t have people living on the streets. There has always been a homeless problem, but it has reached such epic proportions that our elected officials have to do something about it.”
On the other side of the school, a more heated session was taking place. Fighting the new white-washing brought out many emotions and debates.
“This session discussed the cultural level of gentrification, like the Olympics, which is sold as ‘better’ for the community,” said speaker Anne Orchier of NOlympics LA. “This issue can touch people deeply and it can make us uncomfortable.”
She added that she is aware that she is part of the problem, being a white artist living in Boyle Heights, an area where the anti-gentrification coalition, Defend Boyle Heights, has boycotted newly opened art galleries.
However, some left discouraged after the session.
“I’m sort of feeling that they are not choosing people who are from the community to help us to either understand and be understood,” said Mone’t Lamb, founder of the Black Business Tour, an organization that promotes black-owned businesses.
“My concern is that when we are talking about gentrification and you don’t have people from the community who are addressing such issues, it really is not helping at all.”
Aside from the sessions, the summit also had an on-site tenant help clinic, an anti-gentrification free store and live music.