A Different Way of Redlining

A week and a half ago, I wrote a review of an excellent play we saw about Los Angeles and gentrification (there are just a few performance left – you should go). This play looked at one plot of land in Watts, a community in South LA, as it transitioned from Gabrielano-Tongva ownership to Mexican to American (as a white suburb), and then transitioned with the 2nd wave of black westward migration into a black community, and then was transformed into a Hispanic community, and then — because houses were cheap — becoming a gentrified White community where the former owners were priced out. This is a pattern that has happened time and time again in Los Angeles: Look at how immigrants are being pushed out of Boyle and Lincoln Heights, and just ask my daughter about the changes occurring in West Adams, where she used to live.

So I was very interested when a friend posted an article titled: “Los Angeles is quickly becoming a place exclusively for the white and rich“, exploring how the black population of the city has been rapidly declining. The first two paragraphs are key:

L.A.’s Black population has declined by 100,000 since the 1980s, falling from 13% of the County population to 8% in just a few decades. Hollywood alone saw the displacement of 13,000 Latinos between 2000 and 2010, pushed out by rising rents to make way for upscale redevelopment. These are just two of the most eye-popping figures that illustrate a larger point: Los Angeles is increasingly becoming solely accessible to the rich, and the rich are disproportionately white. (“Black and Mexican households have one cent for every dollar of wealth held by the average white household,” according to The Color of Wealth in Los Angeles.)

We are witnessing the rapid creation of a new geography of segregation and exclusion in Los Angeles, as areas seen as desirable are being purged of those who cannot afford the sky-high rents that inevitably follow.

Los Angeles has a very segregated past that many people don’t know about. Minorities were kept in particular areas through the process of red-lining, which limited the ability to get loans and insurance. This led to many of LA’s problems with the East Side and South LA. There was White Flight that made the valley (there were only certain communities, such as Arleta, for minorities), and there was significant impact — present to this very day — on the LA Unified School District. Then again, there are all the racial tensions that exist with the LA Police Department and the LA Sheriff’s Department (who can forget Rodney King and other incidents).

What this article pointed out was that a different, more insideous, type of redlining is now occurring. The high housing prices in Los Angeles are combining with the depressed wages that minorities often earn to price minorities out of area. Downtown, which was once affordably prices for poor artists and minorities, is becoming gentrified and pushing out those that could once afford the area. An article about these rising rents noted:

Parker isn’t the only artist who faces a tenuous future in the Arts District. Named for the artists who made the neighborhood a creative hub in the 1970s and ’80s, the Arts District could soon find itself with few actual artists living within its borders — no small irony given its name and the fact that Mayor Eric Garcetti likes to regularly tout Los Angeles as an “arts capital” in statements and speeches.

At 800 Traction Ave., a warehouse building that began life as a coffee and spice factory in 1918, residents have received a 60-day quit notice. Just beyond the southern fringes of the Arts District, the Santa Fe Art Colony is expected to start charging market rates after operating for 30 years under a contract with the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency as a low- and moderate-income housing site; that contract is now expiring.

Mind you, this is probably not isolated to Los Angeles. Think about what is happening at the National level with income inequality, and the segregation of the wealthy — the haves — from the have nots. What do most of the “haves” have in common, in addition to wealth. Now look, at the National level, at the groups many of these folks are aligning with. Who needs Jim Crow and segregation when you have money and power and advantage.

Perhaps now “taking a knee” becomes better understood. There is not equal opportunity. Here’s another quote from that first article:

And it must be made clear that this is not a neutral process of neighborhood change. The winners are the real estate investors and developers who make hefty profits, and the wealthier incomers who get to live out their idealized urban life. The losers are the poorer residents that already live there, especially the majority that rent. Those that are displaced become homeless or are forced to move far away from their jobs, families, and communities. Those who remain must deal with rising rents, increased racialized policing, and the trauma of watching their community change for the benefit of outsiders. The negative health effects from the displacement and financial strain that come with gentrification are well documented.

Now consider the impact of former downtown and south-central residents only finding affordable housing long commutes away, and the impact not only on family life and childrearing, but on the employers.

The problem is clear. What can we do about it? Simple: We must work to have affordable housing everyone, and strive for a truly integrated and diverse city. We must fight the us/them divide, and learn to see people as persons, not stereotypes.

In the play I saw — which I strongly recommend — we learned that our cultures are not so different. We care about family, we care about place, we have similar foods with different names. If we just get to know each other instead of using wealth and property to separate us, our city can be even greater.