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How Los Angeles is Ghettoizing Affordable Housing and Creating Gentrification

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A group of Exposition Park residents has mobilized against a new 140-unit affordable housing complex on the site of the 48-unit Rolland Curtis Gardens public housing project, and the crusade has brought to light a concerning trend shaping the future of Los Angeles's neighborhoods: affordable housing—which is direly needed and severely underfunded in the city—is most likely to be built, when it is built, in low-income neighborhoods, places that are already overpacked for the resources available; and research shows that's probably going to make things worse for those neighborhoods, reports the LA Weekly.

The Expo Park housing complex, proposed by the community group TRUST South LA and developer Adobe Communities, would take out the 48-unit Rolland Curtis complex, a few blocks south of the Expo Line, and replace it with a new complex that could house three times as many people. Though the development is considered mixed-income, it will not contain any market-rate units; the people who live there will be offered the first chance to return after the complex is built and will probably be the lowest-income renters in the complex, while the other apartments will most likely be rented to people making 30 to 60 percent of the city's average income (which is still double the average for the area's zip code).

So this is not just another case of NIMBYs opposing dense and transit-oriented development in their single-family neighborhood. Residents aren't trying to stop it or even change the plans, they're just trying to get market-rate apartments added in, so that—at least in theory—the neighborhood will add some new tenants who are not in direct competition with current residents for resources that are already maxxed out (area schools, for example, are among the city's poorest and poorest performing). Since the LA City Council hasn't listened (they rezoned the project's land to accommodate its higher density), the group is hoping to make a federal case of the projects on the grounds that it violates housing civil rights laws.

Los Angeles is a city very much segregated according to wealth (despite the fact that there are poor people nearly everywhere, even in some of the little rich pockets). Bringing more affordable housing to the city is obviously vital, but it's needed everywhere, not just in places where low-income people already live. "Generally, it's clear that Los Angeles as a whole is becoming unaffordable," a co-author of the USC Casden Multifamily Forecast says, so why isn't the whole of Los Angeles receiving affordable housing equally?

But in Los Angeles, widespread zoning for single-family houses and other low density building makes that a pretty big challenge. Visions of lawsuits and time lost fighting neighbors make building higher-density, transit-oriented projects—great in theory and necessary in Los Angeles—seem unappealing to developers. As a post yesterday on Market Urbanism points out, confining new development to lower-income neighborhoods (where officials are more likely to make zoning exceptions, since the residents are less politically influential) can force gentrification: "If housing desires cannot be met in upscale neighborhoods, the wealthy can and will outbid less affluent people elsewhere." The only solution is to build more housing in rich neighborhoods.

A couple of professors who have studied the matter and are working with the Expo Park residents say they think the Rolland Curtis plan "would exacerbate poverty among blacks and Latinos and concentrate residential and school segregation." One tells LAW that city leaders who put "hundreds of poor people of color in an area already full of subsidized housing with very weak schools and assume that lots of middle-class people are going to move in and use the schools and the schools will simply get better, [they] are living in a delusion."
· Working Folks, Not the Rich, Fight Density Near USC's Expo Line [LAW]
· Mapping How LA's Rich Decide Where Everyone Else Lives [Curbed LA]
· LA's Scary Shortage of Affordable Housing, By the Numbers [Curbed LA]
· Only 2 Ways to Fight Gentrification (you're not going to like one of them) [Market Urbanism]