The Real Consequence of Gentrification: Hate

Gerald Bell |Contributor

The hate that landlords, wealthy developers, and even government agencies can legally give is called gentrification. It’s the kind of hate that comes when working class African American, Latino, and Asian residents are forced to uproot and restart in distant communities they can’t afford, let alone thrive in. 

      Elyse Valenzuela tells reporters how she lived with her mother and three siblings in a rent-stabilized apartment across the street from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for 30 years. Valenzuela’s home and seven other buildings along Flower Drive were set to be torn down to make room for a multi-use residential and commercial complex by Irvine-based Ventus Group, which acquired the property in 2015. The group got final approval in 2019 for a $455 million mixed-use mega complex called The Fig — a development that’s stirred strong opposition from community groups. 

      Plans for The Fig offers a cluster of seven-story buildings with a 298-room hotel, 200 units of student housing, 200 rental units, and 96,500 square feet of mixed commercial space. The apartments reportedly have 82 rental set aside as affordable. 

      This is the narrative too many LA residents dwelling in neighborhoods as Leimert Park, Boyle Heights, Compton, Echo Park, Baldwin Hills, and more are grappling with. Amid similar threats like Valenzuela and her family face, long-time Los Angelenos are confronting the anxiety and pressure of where to go to re-establish community, quality of life, and hopefully avoid a skid row reality.     

      “People are being pushed from street to street, to extended family, or community spaces,” said Damien Sojoyner an associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. “Many are setting up temporary housing in neighboring pay-by-day parking lots.”

      There is a genuine fear that a community like Leimert Park—where, for generations, local African Americans have gone to celebrate, engage in expressions of culture and empowerment, and even protest—could turn into something uninspired and highly expensive. 

      “Gentrification, by definition, is the displacement and replacement of the poor for profit,” denotes Jung Choi, Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute. “Gentrification is not a natural or inevitable process. Gentrification is human-made and aided in large part by government policy.”

      “I think we should call [gentrification] what it is—Black removal or forced Black relocation,” argues Sojoyner. “It overturns a community’s history, cultural heritage and reduces social capital—all in the name of improving economic and property values, while combatting existing crime rates and homelessness.”  

      Proponents of gentrification decry that “no one is actually hurt,” although they tend to overlook such results as displacement, evictions, forced homelessness, police violence, and destroyed communities. “That’s oppression. That’s hate,” Sojoyner says.

      “It’s not like you can just pack up and move to any other apartment,” says a Leimert Park resident who asked to not be identified. “You’re talking about breaking ties with the community that I have lived in for over 20 years now. The people driving gentrification really don’t care or really understand how they’re effecting hard working people like me and those who have lived here.” 

      While residential gentrification has been a frequent topic of family, community and policy conversations, commercial gentrification—and how it also leads to the displacement of small businesses—has not.  

      “Unlike housing, small businesses are not widely viewed as critical to a community’s life and livelihood in ways that justify public policy interventions,” writes Willow Lung-Amam Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Maryland, College Park. “In an economic system defined by inequality, small businesses are often left to their own devices, and people of color and immigrant-owned businesses are, unsurprisingly, the first to fall.” 

      “Cities that fail to invest in what works to protect and promote these businesses do so at their own peril,” continues Lung-Amam, who is also Director of the Small Business Anti-Displacement Network. “They threaten to lose the people and places that make neighborhoods economically vibrant, environmentally sustainable, and frankly, more interesting and enjoyable places to be.”

      When local hair salons, barbershops and ethnic food restaurants start gradually being replaced by coffee shops, art galleries, and cafes it’s only a matter of time before rents increase, and developers and politicians fight to attract new residents and employers.    

      Choi says that for Black and Brown-owned businesses in gentrifying neighborhoods, the circumstances have been particularly dire. Private capital is attracted to areas experiencing gentrification by incentivized policy changes and public investments, along with new and higher-income residents. 

      “Many small businesses simply cannot compete” observes Choi. “Customers change—often becoming younger, with higher-income levels and Whiter. In the process, both residents and POC-owned businesses that have kept neighborhoods afloat leave — sometimes by forced eviction and other times because it simply no longer feels like home.” 

      In 2016, vandals in low-income Boyle Heights were investigated for spray painting hate messages on the property of incoming art galleries. Activists dismissed the notion that tagging galleries represented a hate crime, claiming, “The walls in this neighborhood are the people’s newspaper” and that’s how people express themselves.  

      “If you’re a long-term tenant with low rent, you are walking around these days with a bullseye target on your back,” said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, which has been pushing a legislative package to counter mass evictions. “Because that landlord is going to do whatever they can to get you out and raise the rent.”

      Gross says gentrification is an “endless and useless cycle.” “Basically, everything will be gentrified and people of color with little means will gradually be phased out.”

Share the Post:

Related Posts