Image courtesy of Los Angeles Times
The December 24 Los Angeles Times had a feature story about a Boyle Heights family that is facing foreclosure as the adjustable rate mortgage on their house balloons beyond their means.
Unable to make the combined $3,000 mortgage payment and in default on the adjustable-rate loan, the family now faces foreclosure.
The number of default notices and foreclosures in Boyle Heights remains lower than in some other parts of Los Angeles. But six homes here have gone through foreclosure so far this year, according to DataQuick Information Systems, and 76 had received notices of default through October, according to RealtyTrac, an Irvine-based real estate information firm. No foreclosures occurred in Boyle Heights last year.
Experts say that any foreclosure here is devastating because the neighborhood has one of the city’s lowest rates of homeownership and has few available rental units.
“It has a deeper impact because the housing situation overall is already in a crisis,” said Isela Gracian, who directs organizing for the nonprofit East L.A. Community Corp., which conducts workshops to help residents avoid foreclosure.
Boyle Heights, one of the great immigrant neighborhoods of the United States, is at a critical moment. What was once a melting pot of Jews, Japanese, Mexicans, African Americans, Russians, and others is now a predominately Latino neighborhood. What hadn’t changed until recently was that it was an affordable place to live, even if it had its share of problems with crime, education, and a lack of jobs and services.
In the past several years, housing in Boyle Heights has become much more expensive, as it has in the rest of Los Angeles. However, Boyle Heights also sits on the front line of gentrification pressures that are exacerbating the crisis. As Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Downtown have become more trendy and have seen significant new development, many speculate that Boyle Heights is the next domino to fall.
Add to the mix the new Eastside Gold Line extension, which local politicians see as a potential catalyst to private investment that they feel will revitalize the area around Mariachi Plaza on First Street.
â€œThe potential here is tremendous,â€ said Mr. Huizar, who grew up in Boyle Heights. â€œMy vision for this area is to have restaurants and a commercial center here. Weâ€™re going to have a lot of people from downtown coming up here during lunchtime. Theyâ€™ll be on the subway in five minutes and get here and listen to mariachi music during the day and evening.â€
The areaâ€™s county supervisor, Gloria Molina, said the light rail was part of what she called the renaissance of East Los Angeles.
â€œThe first thing you do is upgrade the area,â€ Ms. Molina said, â€œand that will attract private investment.â€ She said a Starbucks opened in East Los Angeles in March, and a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and a Quiznos sandwich shop opened three years ago. link
This is an issue that is not unique to Boyle Heights or Los Angeles. We can look to other cities to see what the reality of gentrification looks like, which may help us decide if Gloria Molina and Jose Huizar’s vision is what’s best for Boyle Heights.
Take San Francisco, where the Mission District, historically an immigrant neighborhood, in recent years primarily Latino, has been overrun by young professionals and artists, who have helped to create a spike in housing costs and the mass evictions of Latino residents. Yes, the two groups coexist peacefully, but the reality is that the new commercial development has not done much good for the working class Latino population, with the exception of a few more jobs in the service industry and some great youth arts programs like the writing center at 826 Valencia.
Or how about Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, where million dollar lofts are being constructed across the street from housing projects. Again, working class immigrants, this time mostly from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, are being squeezed out, while others celebrate an artistic renaissance in the neighborhood.
You can see the same thing in London, my birth city, where the area just east of the financial center, including Spitalfields, Shoreditch, and Hoxton, has seen waves of immigrants over the years: French Huguenots, Eastern European Jews, and Bangladeshis. Now the area is another center for artists, designers, musicians, and professionals looking for an edgier environment close to the center of the city.
In Los Angeles, the equivalent area up until recently was Silver Lake and then Echo Park. Then came the Downtown loft phenomenon, where the median income of new residents is just under 100 thousand dollars a year. Just across the river.
The rumors have been there for a while. Jose Huizar wants to bring a Starbucks to Boyle Heights, even though we have a wonderful, homegrown cafe that could use his support, Arctic Hotspot.
Then there’s the new developments that have been proposed or talked about.
Daniel Sullivan, a local developer, was renovating the Linda Vista Hospital next to Hollenbeck Park, hoping to offer 151 units of relatively pricey condos to be rechristened as the Buena Vista Lofts. That project appears to be stalled, especially considering the website with its extensive plans and videos is now password protected.
In 2004, the developer of Santee Court in the Fashion District bought the Sears distribution center in the hopes of converting it into huge mixed use development with lofts, a pool, and a mall. They pulled out and sold the property to Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Partners. This would be the first major development by De la Hoya in his native city.
Nearby, rumors have been floating around that the owner of the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments, one of the largest complexes on the West Coast with 121 buildings and 6,000 residents, is planning to evict all the tenants and upgrade the property to attract a wealthier demographic.
Based on their track record, which includes allowing a similar complex, the Harbor Island Apartments in the Bay Area city of Alameda to deteriorate for years and then evicting the tenants, selling the property to another developer who renovated the property and jacked up the prices, it seems that rumors of the worst, the loss of affordable housing for thousands of Boyle Heights residents in these 1,175 units, are not mere alarmism.
Some have even speculated that the mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is a scheme to make the neighborhood more attractive to developers and wealthier homebuyers. Yes our schools need to improve, but the question is for whom?
I wouldn’t have supported the mayor’s effort if I didn’t believe that he genuinely wants to improve the educational experience for the thousands of young people who are already in Boyle Heights, not to displace the current population. But we must be aware of the issue.
I have witnessed countless students move out of the neighborhood to somewhere where they can afford a house. In many cases, they are moving because their families want to go somewhere safer, more suburban. But often they don’t have a choice.
LA Unified is bleeding students as the city becomes less affordable to working families. Will we become like Paris, an affluent core full of cultural amenities surrounded by suburbs for the working class?
I don’t mean to romanticize Boyle Heights or try to put it in a box and save it as a museum exhibit. All neighborhoods change and most would agree that there are some real changes needed in Boyle Heights. I just wonder what kind of change is best for my students and their families.
What kind of future would you like to see for Boyle Heights? I’d love to see your comments on this.