By Sikivu Hutchinson
Inglewood, circa the late seventies, and there are white kids on the swings and the jungle gyms, roving in the hallways, clutching their milk money all Dennis the Menace freckle faced and anxious, waiting for story time on the magic carpet in the second grade classroom of my elementary school. Most of them have been bused in as part of a short-lived integration policy implemented by Inglewood Unified. The policy was an outlier. A Hail Mary pass to Kumbaya when there were still a significant number of white families in the westerly parts of a city which once boasted Klan rallies on its major thoroughfare in the 1920s. In this snapshot it is over a decade after the Watts Rebellion, the final catalyst for white flight from South L.A. Wormhole to 2019 and the kids of these reluctant colonists have descended in dog walking, baby strolling, cell phone clanking droves onto the ghettoes they once sneered at steaming warp speed down Manchester Avenue fortified with a ripe helping of Jimmy Buffett at the Forum escaping to the homey comforts of the 405. Inglewood (once dubbed Ingle-Watts and now on the precipice of two new multi-billion dollar stadium developments that community activists have pushed back on), has become the new “jam” of Becky and Biff with 2.5 kids and a $500k starter home loan to burn on planting white picket fences in the hood.
In a county in which Black homelessness is the highest in the nation, the white picket fence resurgence is a whiplash glimpse into apocalypse for Black homeowners and renters. As Ron Daniels notes in the Institute of Black World Twenty First Century, “What is equally egregious are the attitudes of some of the newcomers whom residents of Black communities sometimes characterize as ‘invaders’ or ‘neo-colonialists.’ This is because some newcomers are not content to become a part of the community; they arrogantly attempt to change the rhythms, culture and character of the community.” Nationwide, the Black homeownership rate is now lower than it was during the Jim Crow era. And the gap between white and Black homeownership is larger than when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 (Black homeownership is 30.5% lower than whites). Coming to L.A. during the Great Migration period in the early-to-mid twentieth century, African Americans were partly seduced by the so-called California Dream of single-family homeownership, a supposed antidote to Jim Crow apartheid. In the ensuing decades, Black homebuyers were run out of the Westmont neighborhood of South L.A., terrorized and swindled out of their 1920s resort property in Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, and blockbusted by angry white mobs in Baldwin Hills. Post Watts Rebellion, sunshine, endless sprawl, and exurban fortresses became the currency of white generational wealth and white supremacy.
Despite the insidious legacy of racially restrictive covenants, redlining, subprime and predatory lending, and outright white domestic terrorism, home ownership has always been the biggest source of generational wealth for African Americans. Sixty two percent of Black wealth is tied to home equity. Yet, Black home equity is hamstrung by institutionalized segregation which depresses home values in communities of color relative to those in predominantly white communities. Disproportionately low levels of Black equity are also impacted by low savings’ rates among African American homeowners. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “The typical black family with a head of household working full time has less wealth than the typical white family whose head of household is unemployed.” This staggering disparity means that most Black households simply scramble to remain afloat. Savings (much less investment in stocks, bonds, and other high risk market investments) are often difficult to accumulate when folks are one paycheck away from eviction, foreclosure, and potential homelessness.
Hence, the threat of gentrification cuts to the heart of black self-determination in a community that has been hyper-segregated, demonized as crime-ridden, and sold to the highest bidder by Black politicians and white developers.
North of Inglewood, the Crenshaw District’s built environment has become dominated by perpetually clogged streets, epic lane closures, rogue construction, and unhoused folks crammed into campers, vans, cars, tents and sidewalks. Over the past several years, this part of the South L.A. community has been under siege from runaway development rammed down its throat with no grassroots input. One of the most egregious examples is the controversial proposal to erect a 75-foot, 577 unit apartment complex on the corner of Crenshaw and Obama Boulevards. The long vacant site was once home to a Ralph’s supermarket and was originally slated for retail store development. The proposed “District Square” apartment complex was to be built by developer Arman Gabay. As has been widely reported, Gabay, who was recently indicted and arrested for bribing a County employee to secure a lease, had close ties with Councilman Herb Wesson. Gabay is also in default for millions of dollars in federal loans. The outrage of scofflaw Gabay being granted the contract for the development is not lost on residents who face foreclosure and homelessness due to predatory and subprime lending. Black folks don’t have the luxury or privilege to wrack up loan debt while fronting multi-million dollar residential developments. Gabay exemplifies the leeway granted to corporate developers who were handed billions of dollars in loans under both the Obama and Trump administrations on the backs of American taxpayers.
At September’s South L.A. Planning Commission, Wesson withdrew his unqualified support for the development, backing an appeal initiated by the Crenshaw Subway Coalition’s Damien Goodmon and area residents. The appeal seeks to postpone the development in a push for affordable and supportive units.
The challenge to the District Square development comes on the heels of successful opposition to a neighboring complex on Brynhurst Avenue near Crenshaw. The complex would’ve been rammed into a single family residential block. The massive structure was widely opposed for being incompatible with the neighborhood, environmentally hazardous, and unaffordable.
At the other end of the spectrum, the L.A. City Council recently voted to table an ordinance that would have prohibited sleeping on sidewalks near schools, parks, and libraries. Community activists charged that the ordinance would criminalize the unhoused and lead to more racial profiling. Given that the majority of the unhoused are African American, “selective” enforcement of the ordinance would exacerbate systemic over-policing of Black folks who have been forced onto the streets by astronomical rent and housing prices. The city has filed a friend of the court brief challenging a 2018 “Boise Ruling” that bars local governments from prohibiting folks from sleeping on the streets if there aren’t enough shelters. The city’s shameful challenge comes as a recent City Controller’s audit on Measure HHH— which was supposed to be used to construct 10,000 supportive units for the unhoused—confirmed that no supportive housing units have been built with the fund. According to the audit, only a little more than half of the projected 10,000 will be for permanent supportive housing.
The escalation of market rate development in historically Black South L.A. fuels the dispossession of unhoused Black folks. South L.A. and Inglewood homeowners report being besieged with calls and flyers from realtors and flippers looking to buy up housing stock in areas that only a decade earlier were branded “ghettoes”. Former Black strongholds like Harlem, D.C., Philadelphia, Seattle, Houston, Oakland, and Fillmore and Bay Point in San Francisco, have morphed into designer ghettoes greedily carved up by developers in imperial land grabs reminiscent of the twentieth century “urban renewal” or Negro removal schemes that ripped apart Black neighborhoods. Last month, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition launched a series of “Summer of Resistance” townhall meetings that will continue into the end of the year with community actions against the neo-colonial forces of development in City Hall. November’s meetings will spotlight the potential displacement of thousands of Crenshaw residents, the fencing of Leimert Park and the Planning Commission’s complicity in the market rate boondoggle that is bleeding South L.A. dry.