Community Lead Story Local News West Edition

Panelists search for solutions to gentrification

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Developers are rapidly buying up properties along the Crenshaw corridor in anticipation of the completion of the Crenshaw LAX Rail Line that will carry up to 16,000 commuters a day and is costing approximately $1.3 billion to build. 

A number of luxury apartments are in the process of being completed that have residents in South Los Angeles concerned as to whether the high-priced rentals will price them out of their neighborhoods.

Gentrification has become the hot topic and hundreds of people turned out Oct. 5 to attend a town hall meeting on the topic at the South Central Los Angeles Regional Center building on Western Avenue... 

Four panels tackled the gentrification issue that included pastors, business and community leaders.

“The problem with gentrification is that there is inclusion that excludes us,” said Pastor Shep Crawford, who urged residents to collectively come together to voice their concerns to the City Council. 

“We don’t want our people to be displaced,” Crawford said. “You just can’t come in here and kick us out. If we can all agree on some kind of movement to confront gentrification, then we can’t be stopped.”

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said, “Each [proposed] development should have an inclusionary measure. If the city is going to greenlight a project, it needs to include units that are affordable.

“There’s got to be a political will to get behind it. 

“The community needs to craft a comprehensive housing policy and there needs to be an increase in affordable units. The U.S. used to provide over one million affordable housing units a year and this has been reduced to 60,000.”

Pausing, he said, “There needs to be a moratorium. We need to stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to allow you to build any more luxury apartment buildings unless you include affordable housing. There needs to be a zoning policy here in the city of L.A.”

Morial said “New York City has rent control, which is controlled by a rent stabilization board. I would look at the New York City policy to see if it can be applicable to Los Angeles because they have cash and finance subsidies to build affordable units.”

Pastor Xavier Thompson of the Southern Baptist Church said that local churches need to come together and devise a comprehensive plan to tackle gentrification. 

“We don’t just say ‘no’ to gentrification, we say ‘Hell, no!” Thompson declared. “When we are pushed out of our communities, we lose our voice and vote. We know that deals are being made in the backroom and the boardroom and we are being left out. If we are going to reimagine [our communities], you have to give us a seat at the table.”

Former NBA player and business owner Norm Nixon added, “From a political perspective, more tax dollars and rich people are moving into the neighborhood.  You have to hold your politicians accountable in order to demand more affordable housing.” 

Michael Lawson, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said, “Developers are buying homes and businesses, but they have access to credit — and businesses are bought and sold on credit. Many of us don’t have that option, but we need to start buying property,” he said.

“There are projects in our community that are being greenlighted, but we are actively lobbying the politicians because we need their help,” he said.

“It’s important to know how even one dollar circulates in our community,” Lawson added.  “A dollar in a Korean community circulates for 50 days, but a dollar spent in our community leaves in eight hours.”

Kevin Harbor, president of the UCLA Black Alumni Association who owns an information technology company, said, “My parents moved to Leimert Park in 1967 when I was 10 years old. As I grew up, the value of real estate in the area went up. 

“When my children grew to house buying age, I found that they couldn’t even buy in the neighborhood I live in now. They were priced out. Our backs were against the wall.”

Pausing, he said, “Let’s get together and start buying stuff and passing it down. Then we don’t have to ask permission for anything.”

Brian Williams, vice president and chief operating officer for the Los Angeles Urban League, said that gentrification intersects with power, money, racism and classicism. “It is designed for us not to take advantage of the opportunities that surround us,” he said. “It is immoral to deny people housing. It’s a human right, but it’s bound up in a political issue of power.”

“I want everyone to Google opportunity zones and co-op opportunity zones,” said Beny Ashburn, who with her partner, Teo Hunter, owns Crowns & Hops, a brewery located in Inglewood.

“There are programs (to purchase property) that are not being introduced to us,” she said. “Developers are coming in and buying blocks of our community. They have bought up all of Century Boulevard.” 

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, whose organization sponsored the town hall, said “There’s a problem in California with the lack of transparency. Developers are giving council people a boatload of money to build these developments.” 

The organization founded the Healthy Housing Foundation, which provides affordable housing to individuals living with HIV and AIDS and also provides housing for the homeless population.

“A lot of our clients and employees had to move out of the city to afford housing,” said Weinstein, who added that the organization has purchased five hotels and is actively seeking another hotel to purchase in South Los Angeles. The rent for clients is an affordable $400 dollars a month. 

“I felt [gentrification] was a moral outrage — that same as what happened (to clients) during the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s,” he said, adding that one of the foundation’s goals is to maintain and preserve communities.

“Overall, I would say that for a long time, the attitude was no development in South Los Angeles. But I think that’s changed in the last couple of years,” he said.  

“People are moving back into the city and Crenshaw and Boyle Heights have become areas for prime investments. I attended an Urban League dinner a few months ago and I said, “If you don’t do something now, Crenshaw will be gone, and it looks like my words are coming true.” 

“If the landlord wants to sell an apartment building, they should first ask the tenants if they want to put together their resources to buy the building,” said Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, a candidate for the Long Beach City Council.

“We have to start thinking, ‘How do I come together with my community in order to buy homes and commercial assets?’”

“If you have a self-directed [individual retirement account], you can spend money from that IRA to buy a business,” Harbour said.

“We’ve got to realize that this is a real fight between the haves and the have nots,” Harbour added. “There needs to be a paradigm shift so that we can work together. If we go in collectively and say, ‘You will do this,’ then they will do it. We need to figure out the solution and not ask for permission.” 

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer