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‘You’re just showing us what we’re not gonna live in’

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Rent-controlled apartments in Hyde Park will be demolished to make way for a sprawling new complex

A photo of Traditional-style two-story apartment buildings, each set apart like little houses on the same site.
A street view of Dorset Village, seen from Slauson Avenue.
Google Maps

With its blooming trees and courtyards, a new complex that will bring 782 apartments to Hyde Park looks lovely. But to build it, the developer will need to knock down Dorset Village, a 1940s garden apartment complex with 206 rent-controlled apartments.

At a meeting last week set up to offer details on the planned redevelopment, Dorset Village residents said they are skeptical they will get to enjoy what’s to come.

“You’re just showing us what we’re not gonna live in,” Juanita Dunn, who has lived at Dorset Village since 1994, told city and developer representatives as they stood in front of poster boards with visuals of the development.

Dunn knows that as a tenant of a rent-stabilized apartment she stands to receive relocation money. But she questioned whether she and others will be able to find suitable places for the same amount they pay now.

Rena Harper, a Leimert Park resident who used to live across the street from Dorset Village, also wondered if relocation money would be a real help to people hoping to stay in the neighborhood until the project is completed.

Harper said she thought many people would likely leave Los Angeles proper, and doubted that they would be able to return, as rents are on the rise.

“Once you leave [LA], it’s hard as hell to get back in,” Harper said.

A rendering of a white, seven-story apartment project with a border of trees with pink flowers.
A photo of the project rendering taken at the public meeting for the development. The project is seen here from Eighth and Slauson.
Photo by Bianca Barragan, rendering by HKS

Developer Jeff Greene will ultimately offer all Dorset Village tenants “in good standing” a right of first refusal to the 147 affordable units in the new complex, but they will have to qualify, says Ellia Thompson, a project representative.

Those units will be offered to tenants with low- to extremely-low incomes, between $66,800 and $25,050 a year for a family of two. (The median household income for the area is just under $42,000 a year, Census data shows.)

The remaining 635 units will be placed under the city’s rent-stabilization ordinance, says Thompson, but the developer will be able to set rents at a higher starting rate that will be determined closer to the opening date of the building. After that, the rent will only go up by a city-determined percentage every year.

This information didn’t seem to change Dunn’s mind. She said she was mainly concerned about what would happen in the years leading up to the completion of the new complex—which is slated to open in 2024.

“Where do you move?” Dunn asked.

Most urban planning and housing experts agree that, after decades of under-building statewide, especially in wealthier coastal areas such as Los Angeles, more housing ​of all types ​is needed to chip away at the high cost of buying and renting​ in LA​. But critics say that new housing should not come at the expense of existing tenants.

At last week’s meeting, resident after resident asked planning staffers how they would get the relocation money, how they would be notified of their option to return, how they could apply for the affordable units in the project once they were available.

Staffers noted that those questions would be better addressed by the city’s housing department or the district’s city councilmember. Representatives for neither were present, so many questions were left without firm answers.

Further straining communication, Spanish translation services were not provided. That responsibility ended up falling to a handful of attendees who translated conversations between more than a dozen Spanish speakers and city staffers and representatives for the developers.

Many attendees said the meeting did not turn out to be forum to have their main concern—potential displacement—addressed.

“Why are we even here?” Dunn, at one point, asked.

The project seen from above. It’s sort of a donut concept, with open space in the middle and residential buildings along the perimeter.
An aerial view of the project.
Photo by Bianca Barragan, rendering by HKS

The redevelopment of Dorset Village is not the only major change headed to Hyde Park. With a station about one block east, the Crenshaw/LAX Line is expected in 2020, and the light rail line’s path—along what’s considered the Main Street of black Los Angeles—and its implications for the neighborhood have been simmering since before construction began.

Dorset Village’s proximity to two rapid bus stops and the future Crenshaw Line allows the developer to use the highest “tier” of the city’s transit-oriented communities incentives, which are aimed at encouraging developers to include some affordable housing in their residential projects near transit. In exchange for including below market-rate units, developers get to build bigger projects than would normally be allowed.

As a companion project to the stretch of the Crenshaw Line that runs from 48th to 60th streets, the community stands to receive another asset: Destination Crenshaw, an open-air exhibition of public art and parks, plus new infrastructure from which to take it all in.

Both projects represent massive investments in a neighborhood that has long been associated with disinvestment and disenfranchisement—investments the residents at the meeting now worry they might not be around to see.

Pastor Roshod Hall leads the congregation at the People’s Independent Church of Christ, which hosted the meeting. Though he’s only been in the position for about two months, he grew up in the area and represents a church that has over 100 years in the community. Hall walked around the room during the two-hour meeting, talking to attendees.

In offering to host the meeting at his church, Hall wanted to use his position and the church’s position to be a “conduit” for conversations that need to happen between the community and those proposing to change it—whether that’s Metro or a real estate developer or the owners of a new business, he said.

Hall said that, as a pastor, he is called upon to try and see both sides of a situation. Here, he sees a development that could potentially benefit the businesses in the community that are owned by many of his congregants.

But he says that he doesn’t believe that those benefits should come at the expense of the people living at Dorset Village.

Longtime tenants have a life here, Hall said. “They deserve a legitimate opportunity to come back and [continue to] live here,” he said.

Hall compared the changes coming to the neighborhood to snowball rolling down a snowy hillside, growing larger with every rotation. “I don’t think we can stop it, but how do we keep people from not getting bulldozed by it?”