Moving up in Boyle Heights

I wonder if this woman realized how shallow she sounded. From today’s Times article on new housing developments in Boyle Heights:

“We are in a great location, and everybody knows Boyle Heights is going to be pretty and it’s going to happen soon,” Chavez said. “But more affordable housing? That’s ridiculous. We want a 14-screen beautiful theater with appropriate parking.” And stores other than Sears. “I’d love to be able to shop in my own neighborhood, but I don’t like polyester,” she said.

I told my mom about the new developments a little while ago. Even though we’ve lived in the suburbs since the late ’70s, we still have strong connections to East LA and Boyle Heights. My parents grew up there, and for most of my childhood many of my family members and grandparents still lived in the area. My father worked even worked at the Sears building while he was taking classes at LA Trade Tech.

I framed the article and news about developments in racial/ethnic terms, “white people will be moving in to East LA.” She looked at me as if I told her hell had frozen over. News about gentrification in East LA isn’t necessarily news to me. I have several friends who are in urban planning and others who work for nonprofits like the ones mentioned in the article.

I also know that communities change in ethnic population over time as Boyle Heights has. However, it’s really hard for me and my mom to imagine Boyle Heights as anything but primarily a Latino (and Mexican at that) community.

5 thoughts on “Moving up in Boyle Heights”

  1. Boyle Heights has been Jewish and Japanese, too. It’s interesting to see the cemeteries in that part of town, because that’s one thing that doesn’t leave. Cedars of Lebanon and Mount Sinai hospitals, part of what became Cedars-Sinai, were there and so was Canter’s. There was also a Molokan Russian population. The Japanese-American National Museum ( ) has a nice online exhibit about the area.

  2. Holy hell. Someone needs to pull the stick out of that lady’s ass and send her packing back to Thousand Oaks.

  3. Nice post, Cindy. Both sides of my family (mom’s Jewish and dad’s Mexican) are from Boyle Heights, and it has always been a part of my family’s history and present.

    The LA Times article frames things in the wrong terms. Everyone wants the good things to happen to their neighborhood, rich or poor, like tree plantings, streetscape improvements, better public transit options, revitalized shopping areas, etc. But our challenge in Los Angeles is how we are going to keep families living in neighborhoods that have called home for many years. “Affordable housing” means so many things and can range from homeless transitional housing to condos for cops and nurses. The reality is, almost no one who earns less than $100,000 a year can afford to buy a home in LA, and rental prices are also skyrocketing. I just saw a poll where housing is now the number two issue on the minds of Angelenos (after traffic–which is bad because there is no housing that people can afford in the neighborhoods where they work). That means getting more housing built in the city is more important than public safety, the economy, schools, etc.

    Here are a few thoughts:

    1) Big projects like the Sears site are good, but require a lot of public subsidy for each unit if you want some to be available at lower prices.
    2) An inclusionary zoning policy (basically the policy that mandates or allows developers to build 10% of all new housing at lower prices in exchange for adding the same amount in new density–meaning new units that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to build) exists in 100+ cities in California and can work to get more units built without asking for taxes from residents or builders. We are discussing this now in the City Council.
    3) A fee attached to new housing or to new commercial development (stores and office space) exists in many cities. This fee goes into a fund that helps non-profit builders and others build affordable housing. We don’t have this currently in LA.
    4) We have built up the nation’s largest affordable housing trust fund (like the fund discussed above), which leverages every dollar we have put in with five dollars that state, private, federal, and county sources kick in. We need about $100 million a year in this fund and we are about halfway there.
    5) A local housing bond (like Proposition 46, the statewide housing bond that passed handily a few years back) could help fund the trust fund, but this means we all pay for that.

    Boyle Heights will be more changed by the prices of housing in the rest of the city than by any new development. Those prices, together with the light rail extension into the eastside, will drive prices up. And as we see in many other parts of the city, this does not necessarily chase any one ethnicity out, but it does drive poor folks to cram together in more crowded conditions and to move further out from the urban core, causing even more traffic.

  4. Eric,
    Thanks for explaining some things. Despite having friends who work in city planning and are advocates for affordable housing, I still don’t know too much about how things actually work in the city.

    I remember the first time I flipped through my parents’ yearbooks. Both graduated in the early to mid 70s from Garfield and Roosevelt high schools. I was surprised to see a lot of Japanese kids side by side all the Chicanos since the East LA I knew was all Mexican. I took an LA History class in college and was well aware of Boyle Heights’ Jewish heritage as well. Thanks for the link.

    Hopefully that woman can find some good shopping and multiplexes in Thousand Oaks.

  5. Cindy,
    It’s nice that you love Boyle Heights so much, but your constant writing about it is going to make folks want to move there–further driving up real estate prices and, in effect, contributing to gentrification!

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