SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A section of South Los Angeles stands to benefit from federal grants to improve issues related to poverty as it received a designation as a Promise Zone on June 6, making Los Angeles the only U.S. city to have two such zones within its boundaries.
President Barack Obama created the Promise Zone program in 2014 to help struggling areas recover from the Great Recession. The title pushes those neighborhoods to the top of the list to receive federal grants.
The new Promise Zone boasts nearly 200,000 residents and includes the Vernon-Central, South Park, Florence, Exposition Park, Vermont Square, Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhoods. Currently, the area has a poverty rate of 45 percent, three times the national average; an unemployment rate of 12 percent and a high school dropout rate of almost 50 percent.
The designation was announced in a ceremony at Los Angeles Trade Tech College by Nani Coloretti, deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Larry Frank, the president of Los Angeles Trade Technical College, a leader of a coalition of more than 50 community partners who developed a set of goals for the area, said possible solutions are multifaceted and complex.
“If you focus on one issue, you can’t lift a community up,” he said. “You can’t fix schools if you can’t fix poverty, and you can’t fix poverty if you can’t fix crime. Then, in order to decrease crime, you have to tackle the mental health issues behind it.”
The five goals of the community partners, known as the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) collaborative are to increase living wage jobs, economic activity and educational achievement, as well as to reduce violent crime and improve the area’s infrastructure.
“We’d like to focus not only on law enforcement, but also to engage residents in policy concerning prevention and re-entry (after prison),” said Leslie Johnson, vice president of organizational development for the Community Coalition, another SLATE-Z partner.
“We want to make sure we have input for the Promise Zone from both African-American and Latino residents, so we need to build sustainability and leadership,” she said.
The theme of the coalition emphasizes the need to build up areas near transit stops since the zone will straddle the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Exposition, Blue and Crenshaw/LAX rail lines as well as the proposed Vermont bus rapid transit line. Frank said his organization is working toward training students for jobs concerning transit maintenance as well as making it easier for them to use public transportation.
“[The MTA] is working with us to provide a $43 monthly TAP card for full- and part-time students,” he said. Originally, the reduced fare only applied to full-time students, whereas part-time students had to pay the full price of $100 per month.
“We found that even among full-time students, the process to obtain the card was so onerous than only one percent of them were taking advantage of it,” Frank said. L.A. Trade Tech and the MTA are planning to streamline it by making the card available through the participating colleges rather than through the MTA.
If more technical students have access to public transportation, it will make it easier for them to take part in construction projects such as the new soccer stadium in Exposition Park set to begin this summer and the replacement of the Sixth Street Bridge.
Frank said obtaining a grant to expand education in the technical fields is a possible aim to fall under SLATE-Z, a move that would then lead to job growth. Additionally, he estimates that up to 700 new rail maintenance jobs will be available as the transit system extends in the next five years.
City Councilman Curren Price also was pleased with the Promise Zone designation.
“I’m thrilled that our community was awarded a Promise Zone, not only because I have spent the past two years fighting for this designation, but more importantly, because our neighborhoods will finally receive priority access to federal money needed to properly address the region’s 46 percent poverty rate,” Price said.
“The victory was especially sweet because South L.A. had been twice denied the opportunity to benefit from this anti-poverty program. The first time, in 2014, I was furious,” Price added. “But rather than throw my hands in the air and say, ‘Oh, well. Too bad.’ I decided to bring together dozens of key leaders across sectors to turn our shared frustration into collective action.”
Solomon Rivera, chief of staff for Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, also said he feels positive about opportunities in the Promise Zone.
“I’ve never seen so many cranes when I go into South L.A,” he said.
The first Los Angeles Promise Zone covers neighborhoods bounded by Hollywood, MacArthur Park and Koreatown and was among the first five areas to receive the designation in 2014. Since then, it has secured more than $100 million in federal investments and the graduation rate increased by 6.6 percent at targeted high schools last year.