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Three Highland Park Residents on Their 'Hood's Inescapable Gentrification

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In As the Block Turns, Curbed talks to folks in changing neighborhoods to see how they feel about what's happening around them. Today Megan Koester talks to residents about the twin stretches of York Boulevard and Figueroa Street in gentrification poster child Highland Park.

The mass of young, well-off, college-educated Angelenos with an "artistic" bent have, for the past 15 years or so, resided in the same three neighborhoods—Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park. Rising rents in those areas, however, are increasingly pushing them farther east—most noticeably to the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Highland Park.

While it's still cheaper to live in Highland Park than, say, Silver Lake, that doesn't seem like it'll always be the case. The median sale price for a house in the neighborhood is now over half a million dollars and conscience-deficient real estate agents are "retenanting" local, mostly Latino-owned businesses like crazy (that's a fancy way to say they're helping kick out lower-rent-paying commercial tenants in order to make way for higher-paying ones). York Boulevard, ground zero for Highland Park's gentrification, now has a critical mass of boutiques, cafes and record stores—the train of transformation is now traveling down Figueroa Street and shows no signs of derailing any time soon.

Here we've gathered three accounts from Highland Park residents who have witnessed (and no doubt contributed to) the region's evolution (or devolution, depending on who you ask):

Helen, a homeowner for four and a half years

We've been in Highland Park for four and a half years now. We mainly moved here because it was affordable to buy a house and artist friendly for the kind of work my husband does (he's a woodworker).

Our neighborhood has changed a lot since we moved here. We've seen many new storefronts come in on York that cater to the new community—we've also seen our neighbors change, as many Latinos are moving out and new families and couples are moving in. Amidst the new families, hipsters, and storefronts that cater to the new community, however, you can still find good Latino cuisine, local art, and cultural diversity.

Highland Park is definitely gentrifying. I think one of the main factors is landlords and real estate agents, especially in the commercial building market. Many stores that have been primarily Latino-owned are going out of business because the landlord decided to raise the rent to current market value, or sold the building to an investor who has grand plans for turning the space into some mixed-use space for a premium rental price.

Many residential homes are being bought by local flippers or investors who fix them up and sell them at premium prices—we have friends who work full time jobs who can no longer afford to rent or buy here.

Mary, a renter for two years

Months before I made the trek to LA I started seeing bundles of media networks dubbing Highland Park the up and coming place to be. From Thrillist to Esquire, lots of places included it on their top ten lists of best new places to live. I didn't know much about LA, but up and coming sounded like:

A. Where I needed to be
and B. A thinly veiled admission that there may be some dodgy spots but rent is still cheap for all the "hip" you're getting in on.

I've had one rent spike, about a dozen new white neighbors with Priuses, and watched new shops pop up on Figueroa, the once non-gentrified major street of Highland Park. For a long time all the action was (and mostly still is) on York, but you can now overpay for Pop Physique, check out an art gallery, eat vegan, and get authentic tacos from a grocery store parking lot, all within four blocks.

Is Highland Park gentrifying? Absolutely. Rent hikes, property flipping (you can tell a place is being flipped by its distinct horizontal fence style), the arrival of a $10 juice shop, and the protests that have occurred (there have been a few gentrification protests on York, calling out the shops that are especially catering to the white hipster community) prove it.

Danielle, who grew up near Highland Park

Confession: I don't technically live in Highland Park, I live in Glassell Park. It's just easier to tell people I live in Highland Park because they can identify it on a map now, finally. I moved in 2012, but grew up in Mt. Washington and Eagle Rock. I moved because it was less expensive than Echo Park and Silver Lake, but had many of the same perks. Highland Park started to gentrify after the financial crisis of 2008 so a lot of cool coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and vintage shops popped up in the area, making it basically a less expensive and cooler version of Echo Park. I really loved growing up here. I've been incredibly fortunate to grow up in hill houses with views surrounded by artists, Latinos, and white liberals. It's cheesy, but it's home.

I've definitely seen Highland Park change in the 20-plus years I've lived in the area. I'd always known it as a working class Latino neighborhood with a pretty bad gang problem, but the influx of young white people to the neighborhood, as well as the LAPD cracking down on gang activity, has allowed for new small businesses to open up.

Gentrification has been slow to come to Highland Park. There have always been older gay couples and artists living in Mt. Washington, but I think those groups didn't move down into Highland Park because of the gangs. The gang activity in Highland Park in the '80s and '90s was really bad. I remember being 14 years old, waiting for my dad while he went inside a taco shop and seeing a bunch of Avenues roll in. Drama had apparently carried over from a party to the taco shop and guns were being waved around. My dad had to duck out the back.

I think the displacement of working-class immigrant families is wrong, but guns being waved around in my face isn't cool either. I think the crackdown on gang violence and the financial crisis were the tipping points. White creatives couldn't afford rent in other gentrified neighborhoods and Highland Park was relatively safe, so they moved in. You see the gentrification in the coffee shops, the new restaurants, the yoga studios, the art walks, the farmer's market, the house flipping storefronts, the white people, and the rising home values and rents. Gentrification is only good for the small business that already exist in Highland Park up to a point. They get increased business from the new people moving to the area, but it's truly better for the property owners. They're the ones that raise the rents. And it's easy to demonize the greedy landlords, but if all of a sudden property values shot up in your neighborhood and you were in a position to significantly increase your income, you'd probably take that cash too. It's a complicated issue—I think the root of it is income inequality.

I run a comedy show called Gentrification in the area. It's ruffled the feathers of the North East Los Angeles Alliance (basically the local gentrification police) because they think the name is misleading and makes light of a very real issue. While gentrification is addressed, it's never been a topic-based show. It's an alternative comedy show that happens in alternative spaces. The show name is intentionally provocative, but also comes from the fact that the only reason this show can even exist in this area and be successful is because of gentrification.
· Just How Crazy Has Highland Park Real Estate Been Over the Last Two Years? [Curbed LA]
· Meet the Woman Driving Highland Park Gentrification By Convincing Landlords to Jack Up Rents [Curbed LA]
· Six Revealing Sidewalk Talks on "the Coolest Block in America" [Curbed LA]