The Homeless Equation: Gentrification and Unaffordable Housing

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July 26, 2016 by poverty2professional

My neighborhood is changing.

It’s changing in ways that mostly comes with phrases like “up and coming” and “improving” and “being more walkable.” It now has bike lanes in places where people always used to ride their bikes. They just happened to be black and brown riders before anyone cared enough to paint the asphalt. The main streets of my neighborhood has sprouted shops that sell food and drink with the descriptors of “artisan,” “craft,” “organic,” and “gluten-free” in front of them. Houses are being “flipped,” or sold to a real estate agency, painted over, aired-out, and put back on the market at an even higher price than what their structural worth should be. But that’s not a problem when you’ve got adjectives like “historic,” “charming,” and “cozy” to substitute “old” and “tiny.” It’s also not a problem in a place like Los Angeles where our housing market is booming and supply absolutely refuses to meet demand.

According to last count, we’re at about four million residents in The Town of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels; in case anyone tries to tell you that LA is short for the “City of Angels.” With complete candor, there is nothing angelic about the way our homeless and the efforts (or more appropriately, the civic lack thereof) to prevent it are supported. Because as the demand for housing increases to ravenous proportions, the prices for it can be and are ruthlessly exploited. In downtown Los Angeles, the grim irony of a sky-rise filled with empty lofts waiting to be rented while a homeless person huddles at the structure’s very base is an all too common sight. Online maps of where to find the cheapest rentals are circulating at a pace that barely outdoes the surging prices.

So little, low-income areas like mine – where my family finally secured housing after being homeless – start to creep, then explode out of our price range. Case in point is this month’s subject, the Marmion Royal Apartments in the gentrifying neighborhood of Highland Park.

Across the street from the Gold Line, the Marmion Royal apartment complex is about 90% occupied, housing mostly working-class, Latino families. To give an idea of how close to poverty some residents are, several receive Section 8 housing vouchers. Recently, the previous landlord, Azusa Pacific University, sold the property to Skya Ventures and Gelt Ventures. In June, the new owners notified the 51 families that they will be evicted so that the building may undergo renovation. While the current renters will not be barred from returning, they will most certainly be out-priced. After the renovation, rents at the Marmion Royal will skyrocket to $1800-$2200 per unit, almost double of what many of the residents are currently paying.

Why so steep?

Because they can. That’s what our current market boils down to. Because capitalism is unchecked, morality yields to a profit margin. In the eyes of the new owners, this 60-unit building is an excellent investment opportunity in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood that is now “hip” and “trendy.” Where are the current tenants going to live? Don’t know. Not the new owners’ concern. Since the building isn’t rent controlled because it was constructed after 1978, it’s perfectly within legal conditions for them to raise the rent so rapidly to such exorbitant prices. Children in the building? Their family should find a more affordable place to live, never mind disrupting their education. Still no place to go? Homeless families are given a blind eye.

Gentrification may be trumpeted as away to “improve” communities, but the unanswered question is, “Improve for whom?” Low-income housing is often occupied by communities of color. These are the working-class or poverty-level areas that larger, metropolitan areas rely on for a blue-collar workforce. When the low-income areas gentrify because newcomers (i.e. people with money, usually white) see a good deal, the shift displaces the original inhabitants. Many of the community members who were there first will not reap the benefits of higher property values, enriched schools for their children, or better transit routes and roads. In other words, you didn’t improve much for anyone who was living in the neighborhood to begin with.

Since LA doesn’t actively add more affordable housing to its area and well-to-do neighborhoods have the fiscal power to deny development in their locations, we end up with an increasing population of displaced individuals and families. Our poverty base is growing and we’ve thrown more kindling into the fire by allowing our children to experience poverty and homelessness early on. A person is more likely to fall into homelessness as an adult if they experienced it as a child, usually because of the high-risk factors associated with the early-age exposure (poor health, disrupted education, volatile family life). In our failure of urban planning, we have also failed to plan for our future Angelenos.

 

 

 

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