South Central development project concerns neighbors


A new South Los Angeles development project drew sharp criticism from neighbors and health advocacy groups at a press conference Monday. A report released by Human Impact Partners found that “The Reef” development, slated to build two multi-use high-rise buildings, will place over half of renters in the site’s surrounding area at high risk for financial strain or displacement.

In September, the City Council released a 3,000 page environmental report on the development. The document has been has been a source of strain on attempting to be involved in the development process.

“In the immediate, we are concerned about the draft [environmental impact review] project that has only given us 47 days to respond to a 3,000 page document,” said Benjamin Torres of CDTech.

Beyond the environmental impact report, the community is concerned that the development will bring new residents into the proposed luxury apartments while pushing out lower-income locals because of rising rent and property value.

Read More: Neighborhood council to take action on Reef Project report

Los Angeles is the least affordable city for renters, and HIP found that the city lost 65 percent of state and federal funding for affordable housing between 2009 and 2014.

The South Los Angeles neighborhood surrounding the development is one of the most crowded areas in the city. In the community where 45 percent of residents fall below the poverty line, a rise in prices leaves many residents forced to compromise.

The Reef development

Residents hold a press conference in front of The Reef, which plans to develop two new skyscrapers in South LA over the next 15 years. | Caitlyn Hynes, Intersections South L.A.

Community members are worried that The Reef development will not include affordable housing, an issue that already exists. At the press conference, residents and community leaders urged developers and the City Council to consider their voices throughout the 15-year building process.  

Benjamin Torres of CDTech said he was concerned that the decisions made about the development would not include the input of the neighbors who currently live there.

“One [concern] is the long-term process and what the role of the community is, and making sure we have equitable community development that benefits the area,” he said.

Neighbors want South L.A. to attract developers. They also want development to reflect the neighborhood’s residents as they are now, not those who will move in to be a part of The Reef’s demographic.

“Let’s imagine for one minute what this project could be. Imagine if this was affordable housing for the residents of affordable housing for South Los Angeles,” said Jim Mangia, President and CEO of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center. “Imagine if that development was serving the people of this community, who have built this community with their blood and their sweat and their tears. Imagine if some of that retail space were community health centers that served this community.”

Read More: Some South LA residents express uncertainty with billion dollar development 

Dr. Holly Avey of HIP said that her organization was concerned about the negative impact that this development could have on the historic South Central L.A. neighborhood. The report found that community residents who are impacted by displacement and financial issues are at a high risk of a variety of health problems, including anxiety, depression, obesity and diabetes.

Beatriz Solis of the California Endowment said that some families are forced to make delicate tradeoffs, like choosing between healthy food or preschool.

Cynthia Bryant, the owner of a local ice cream shop, voiced her concern that when the development does go forward, the businesses in The Reef will push her out of the neighborhood. Bryant worries that the business space in The Reef will drive up rent prices across the neighborhood.

“I don’t want to be the first one to get on the boat if we get pushed out of this community, because they’re pushing us further and further. But where is the boat loading? Should I be the first or should I be the last, should I keep hanging on?” said Bryant.

The rising rents and subsequent displacement of residents worries Solis as well.

“At the community level, when people are forced out, the whole community fabric begins to unravel, and what cohesion and collaborative efficacy, or social and political power did exist begins to evaporate, making it more and more difficult to have a voice in community development,” Solis said.

Neighbors like Erendira Morales, a working mother of four children, say they want to be a part of this process to make sure that their concerns are being heard and addressed.

“We feel that they are playing with the life and the future of the people who live in this community. Our local representatives are not listening to us,” said Morales. “We have our interests, we have our opinions and we feel that they are not paying attention to us. We want to participate, we want to be part of this process.”

Consistent job growth inspired re-imagined Crenshaw business district

imageCalifornia employees and entrepreneurs were heartened by last month’s revelation that December marked a fifth consecutive month of a declining unemployment rate statewide. Los Angeles’ 8th City Council District, one of the poorest in the city, met the news with guarded optimism.

More than 3,200 new jobs were created in the 8th District in 2011, which was the sixth consecutive year of job growth in the area. The 8th District includes the Crenshaw, Hyde Park, Vermont Knolls, North University Park and Baldwin Hills neighborhoods.

“We believe that we’re kind of at the forefront of a transformation here,” said Karim Webb, a local restaurant owner. When it comes to employment, “there’s definitely a positive spin on the story.”

Still, like most of the nation, employment is one of the community’s biggest concerns, said 8th District City Councilman Bernard Parks.

“We send a weekly e-newsletter to 7,000 people every Thursday evening, and the number one item is every job opportunity that we become aware of,” Parks said. “Every time we check the most-reviewed areas, it’s employment opportunities. It’s the number-one question we get asked.”

Since 2006, Parks’ district has added jobs every year. In 2011 alone, restaurants created about 300 positions. Several primary care clinics opened in Crenshaw. And a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Vermont Knolls made public health 2011’s fastest-growing industry.

But because most of the 8th District’s jobs are still in restaurants, retail and services like car repair, income levels haven’t risen in concert with the improving job market.

“We have more people working, but we still have the lowest-paid jobs in the city,” Parks said. “We have people who actually criticize the district, saying that yes, you’re creating jobs, but they’re low-paying.”

imageBut Parks sees these jobs as the gateway to better employment down the road. “Every job is not a career,” he said. “Every job is not a life-long job. You move to another job. You develop.”

Karim Webb opened a Buffalo Wild Wings in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza last year. He hired most of the staff from the Los Angeles Urban League, which helps young minority Angelenos find education and employment. Webb also believes the restaurant addressed a community need.

“It’s a place for people to bring their families, bring their kids after a soccer game or a little league game; a place for families to meet up after work; a place for buddies to meet up after work, have a beer, watch the game. There’s a pocket,” Webb said. “If we can secure that… then people will come. And we’re finding that.”

Webb worried about the community’s crime activity, especially gang problems, before he opened the restaurant. But he said those fears haven’t been validated.

“Demographically, incomes are lower here than among the general population, so that’s somewhat of a challenge,” Webb said. “But we knew there was going to be some aggressive movement toward redevelopment here.”

Edna Boedenave recognizes the neighborhood’s limitations as well. When she opened My Sassie Boutique last month in Crenshaw Square, a plaza on Crenshaw Boulevard between Coliseum and 39th Streets, she set a $20 cap on the price of the shoes, clothing and accessories in her shop.

“It’s something I thought would work here,” Boedenave said. “I like clothes, I love shoes… I think it offers people something they find refreshing. I have items that people want and are affordable.”

What entices customers, though, is not the rack of $19 five-inch heels or the gifts Boedenave offers new guests. Instead, “people say they walk in and it’s like they’re not on Crenshaw,” she said. “They have the feeling that, this is nice, I like the feel of this.”

Webb, however, wants visitors to remember exactly where they are – in fact, he wants Crenshaw Boulevard and Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza to become citywide destinations. “Restaurants and boutiques are just the heralds of a neighborhood beginning to thrive,” he said.

“People that live in Leimert Park, View Park, Windsor Hills, Baldwin Hills are going to have every reason… to spend their dollars here. And there will be people from outside this community who want to come here just to spend time and money,” Webb said. “People who get off the freeway and travel south on Crenshaw Boulevard have a lot to look forward to.”

Apartments offer studios for homeless and low-income people

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A series of unfortunate events left Robert Smith without money or a place to live. For years, he struggled with homelessness and economic instability. But now, he has his very own studio apartment.

“You ought to see my apartment,” Smith said. “I have my own bathroom. This is a big deal.”

Single Room Occupancy Housing Corporation celebrated the grand opening of its latest housing project. Renato Apartments offers 96 studio apartments on San Julian Street for homeless and low-income individuals.

Councilwoman Jan Perry was among local and congressional representatives attending the opening.

“This community has demonstrated that we believe in mixed income communities, and that they can and do do work,” Perry said.

There are still thousands of homeless across Los Angeles. But with Smith and others moving in to these new apartments, a small bite is taken out of homelessness in the city.