Building Hope with Community: The Right to Affordable Housing in South Central Los Angeles

The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community…
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1959

The narrative of South Los Angeles has been one of serial displacement. Community residents, primarily low-income people of color, have systematically been priced out of our homes and neighborhoods to make way for industry and for gentrifying trends. We’ve faced higher rents, skyrocketing property values, and a cost of living that has become unmanageable — even when working multiple jobs. This combination is a result of the city’s poor planning and spot-zoning policies, and the real estate development industry’s unchecked pursuit of profits without consideration of the human cost of housing, health, and security. This has put not only our homes at risk, but also our health, our identities, our livelihoods, and our environment.

Esperanza Community Housing Corporation has been part of the South Central community for the past twenty-five years, working with families who suffered waves of serial displacement before ever entering our units — some even tracing a path from Chavez Ravine, and then the Convention Center development, being pushed each time into worse housing conditions farther south until obtaining a rare opportunity at housing quality and affordability. Esperanza began as a response to displacement pressures on local, hard-working families. Responding to need, we organized our community around land-use rights and zoning. Esperanza cultivated the skills and a pipeline for developing quality multi-bedroom housing, affordable to families of low income. Esperanza continues to be the steward of affordable housing to this day, with a portfolio that includes nine buildings in the area, serving 165 households.

Further, Esperanza has never been alone in the work to make the universal human right to housing a reality. Every member of the United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD) coalition believes firmly in development without displacement and an essential human rights frame without which we cannot build a healthy and just community. We understand deeply that secure access to habitable housing is not only a fundamental human right, but a significant determinant of our individual and family’s health and well-being. Today, we are increasingly responsive to the health issues of families who are doubling and tripling up in rental units as a result of economic hardship, and to the shortage of affordable housing alternatives. We are increasingly being forced into substandard and overcrowded housing, or to our cars, as an alternative to the streets.

As developers begin to look south of the 10 freeway, we have a new opportunity to interrupt the trajectory of this historical narrative. From our collective experience in South Central Los Angeles, the impact of development without protections against displacement inevitably results in loss of homes and rent-stabilized housing, and forced migration of local families and individuals to other geographic areas far from our homes, jobs, and support networks. It also exacerbates the daunting challenge of community-based developers who have the political will and the expertise to acquire and develop land to meet the needs of our own community.

Our community is now faced with the Reef Project proposal. As part of the UNIDAD Coalition, we have commissioned a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to better understand what’s at stake for our beloved community, and to prepare our response to the Reef Project developers’ proposed plan. For the community of South Central, the findings of the Reef Project HIA illuminate the potentially devastating outcomes of the project:

Residents of South Central have historically been people of color who have relocated to this neighborhood to seek economic opportunity and to escape discrimination and violence in other areas. They were forced out of their homes elsewhere – driven out by economic and racist forces – and found community and cultural spaces, here, to live, work, and raise their families.

Thus, numbers we see reflecting historical and current policy practice mean that:

  • Los Angeles has the largest homeless population of US urban areas, and the City Council District where the Reef project is located has the second largest Council District homeless population in the city.
  • 45% of South Central residents live in poverty, compared to 22% for the City of LA.
  • LA lost 65% of its funding for affordable housing between 2009 and 2014 and needs over half a million affordable rental homes.
  • Lack of affordable housing is the main cause of homelessness in the U.S.

We’re here to debunk the myth that all development is good development. Of course, all development has the potential to be good, but only if approached equitably by building better neighborhoods with the same neighbors.  We promote and unite around developments that recognize and celebrate the historic and cultural richness of the area, building economic opportunity and improving living conditions hand-in-hand with the families and individuals who call this neighborhood home. By amplifying our voices and demanding a transparent and open civic engagement process, policy-makers and developers will have the opportunity to do the right thing and invest in equitable development. This is our chance to intervene and create a new community narrative–one shaped by our own voices, centering on healthy, stable and inclusive housing and homes.

People Not Pozos – Health & Environmental Justice Workshop Series

Image

Join us on Thursday, July 23, July 27, & August 6, 2015 at Senderos: 2141 Estrella Avenue in South Los Angeles to learn more about the presence of urban oil & natural gas extraction within our communities and the potential short/long-term effects that we may experience in the near future.

Be sure to register by calling (213) 748-7285.

Register by Calling (213) 748-7285

Mercado La Paloma: Stories of Entrepeneurs

Mercado La Paloma has served South Los Angeles since 2001, unlocking the entrepreneur skills of its residents, providing affordable retail opportunities, creating jobs, and empowering local artists all under one roof creating a cultural hub for the South LA community. In the next few weeks, we will be featuring the stories of some of the restaurants and their journey to continue the growth and vision of Mercado La Paloma. The story of Taqueria Vista Hermosa began in the heart of an entrepreneur, who dreamed of sharing his culinary passion and love for his tierra Michoacán. The restaurant has served the community for over a decade, maintaining excellent service, a family environment, and developing unique relationships with people who enjoy tasting the best tacos al pastor, made from pork meat, marinated with a secret recipe and cooked on a rotisserie.

Chef and owner Raul Morales worked as a carnicero (i.e. butcher) in his home country—Mexico. As a migrant worker in the U.S., he held various jobs and also worked as a street vendor selling tacos during the weekends. Raul shares the following, “since my childhood I have always had a heart to open a Taqueria. I saw the work that my family had done in Mexico. They all started a restaurant business. For me to continue their path was just a matter of time.” Raul was continuously inspired by his family’s dream, work ethic and drive. He decided to take a leap of faith when the opportunity opened with Mercado La Paloma. While watching Univision, a Spanish television network, he heard about the opening of Mercado La Paloma, Esperanza’s economic development project. Raul joined the project initiative in 2000, with a 20 week intensive training on marketing, book keeping, and business investment. Taqueria Vista Hermosa opened its doors in 2001, specializing in traditional Mexican dishes from Michoacan.

Raul runs the restaurant with the help of his wife and their five daughters. Being a business owner has given Raul the opportunity to teach his daughters the value of dreams, commitment, and building a good work ethic. Being part of Mercado La Paloma has allowed him to exceed as a business owner and embrace his passion for cooking by delivering quality food to his clientele and community.

Throughout the years of managing Taqueria Vista Hermosa, Raul has improved his capacity in leadership, problem solving, improvisation, and organizational skills. According to Raul, it is essential to take risks and most importantly invest in the business through marketing, relationships, and team building. As the driver of his team, Raul provides professional training for his staff to learn skills in customer service and gain knowledge in how to run a restaurant successfully. At the end of the year, Raul and his team evaluate what has been effective and what needs improvement. In addition, he hosts an annual cultural event that not only promotes Taqueria Vista Hermosa but also exhibits the richness of the Michoacán culture.   

Mercado La Paloma welcomes you to be a part of this journey by supporting the heart and work of these entrepreneurs. Taqueria Vista Hermosa serves traditional Mexican dishes such as tacos, burritos, fajitas, huaraches, tortas, sopes, flautas, and chile rellenos.  Chef Raul prepares all dishes from scratch, using fresh ingredients and meats

Raul Morales, chef and owner of Taqueria Vista Hermosa

For more information please visit the following site.

Website:  www.taqueriavistahermosa.com

 

Local Residents Work to Transform their Community

The sun hid behind the clouds early in the morning, but everyone was alert with their drills, buckets, or shovels in hand. Eager children as young as four hurried back and forth like ants carrying buckets of soil. Committed parents and friends shoveled heavy soil or helped assemble thick wooden planks together. Later, children and adults cradled seeds and small plants in their palms while carefully choosing the best locations for their future crops. Indeed, on Saturday June 7th, 2014 forty community members and Esperanza Community Housing Corporation gathered to finish their community garden project. Among the forty people present there was a sense of collective responsibility and unity. The day transformed from a cloudy morning to a bright, sunny day and the hours seemed to slip by- most of the community members arrived at the park by nine in the morning and worked until two in the afternoon.

IMG_6121

Children at Richardson Park
Courtesy of Sandy Navarro and Angelica Romero

Collective gardens create opportunities for individuals to network and share experiences, create a sense of community, and build community leaders. Especially in South Los Angeles, where access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs are scarce, the opportunities that gardens offer are invaluable. Recognizing their significance, Esperanza invested in their second community garden project to further promote the idea of eating responsibility and help establish a sustainable food system that serves their respective communities regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, or any other background.

The community gleamed with the satisfaction of creating a garden for themselves. Their dedication was not only present that day; the adults and families already demonstrated their dedication by attending weekly meetings where they learned basic gardening skills. Looking around the finished product, Ruth Andrade, an active community member and the Richardson Park organizer shared, “It’s important that our children know how to plant, grow, and maintain seeds. They are tired and realizing how difficult this is, so I think they will want to invest and take care of the garden. (“Es importante para que nuestros hijos sepan cómo plantar semillas, como crecenlos, y cómo cuidarlos. Se estan cansando y saben lo difícil que es, entonces pienso que ellos van a tener esas metas para cuidar el jardín.”).” The garden at Richardson Park is yet another reason for neighborhood children to come to play, as well as a place for individuals and families alike to come together and grow fresh fruit and vegetables.

IMG_6156

Courtesy of Sandy Navarro and Angelica Romero

Esperanza’s Gardening Projects, Semillas de Esperanza (Seeds of Hope), is led by Coordinator Sandy Navarro.The project is an initiative to improve community health by educating community members on how to live a healthy lifestyle, and by providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables by means of planting edible gardens in South Los Angeles. Over the past few months, Sandy has worked to engage community residents in creating their gardens and connecting them with the necessary resources to ensure project sustainability. The first garden was at the Villa Esperanza (Villa), and Richardson Park is Semillas de Esperanza’s second site.

For more information on how you can get involved in our Semillas de Esperanza Project, please contact our Project coordinator:

Sandy Navarro, Gardening Project Coordinator Email: Sandy@esperanzacommunityhousing,org.

You can also support the garden project by making a donation of plants, trees and gardening supplies or funding to sustain our gardens here: donations welcome.

Semillas de Esperanza (Seeds of Hope)

Semillas de Esperanza by Esperanza Intern, Grecia Reyes

“To change a community, you have to change the composition of the soil…we are the soil”— (Ron Finley,urban farmer in South LA)

Residents and Volunteers at Villa Esperanza first planting session.

Residents and Volunteers at Villa Esperanza’s first planting session.

Walking through the streets of South Los Angeles, one comes across an overabundance of food chains and liquor stores, offering men, women, and children unhealthy foods. The food is often fried and overcooked, in addition to products carrying high levels of fat, sugar, salts, carbohydrates, and oil. In South Los Angeles, the inaccessibility to healthy nutritious food and access to supermarkets are a constant problem for the working class. Residents often shop at convenience stores, where fresh foods selection is limited or overpriced.

Eating can be a spiritual act that connects people to the earth and to those that cultivate and produce the food we eat. It can also send out an invitation for community engagement and social change. The act of eating conscientiously can call for the breaking of geographic lines that result from economic vulnerability and systems of power that control the food industry. The families within our affordable housing communities have voiced their desire to grow and sustain their own foods. At Esperanza, we understand that eating justly has to do with the active practice of eating responsibly and creating a sustainable food system that serves all communities, disregarding location and social-economic status.

Semillas de Esperanza is a community driven gardening project bringing fresh food to our families! 

garden photo 2 habanero

Semillas de Esperanza (Seeds of Hope), led by Esperanza’s Gardening Project Coordinator, Sandy Navarro is an  initiative  to increase community access to fresh fruits and vegetables by means of planting edible gardens in South Central Los Angeles. Over the past few months, Sandy has been working on mobilizing community residents to discuss the development of the gardens and connecting them with the necessary resources to ensure project sustainability. The first garden has already been initiated at Villa Esperanza (Villa) as a communal garden in addition to assigned garden boxes.

"El Abuelo"

“El Abuelo”

Gregorio Puga is also known as El Abuelo (the grandfather) of the community, has been a resident at Villa for over 20 years. Throughout the day, you can find him either amending soils or watering and nurturing his plants. He has used all of the spaces available in Villa to create small edible gardens. Abuelo is originally from Yucatan, Mexico. Here he worked as a jardinero (gardener) for many years in the wealthy neighborhoods of Los Angeles and southern California communities. For him, gardening is about living a healthier life style, saving money, learning to appreciate what the land produces in order to re-distribute it to the community.

Abuelo reminds us that gardening is about our relationship with the land, acknowledging that, “God created the land and put humans into a garden.” Abuelo sees this as a lesson on how to be working stewards; because the land produces life and sustains us, but we must be willing in turn to cultivate and sustain the land. It is for this reason that gardening calls for thoughtfulness, gentleness, and justice

Be a part of our Semillas Project by volunteering in our next planting or workshop session. For more information on how you can get involved in our Semillas Project, please contact our Project coordinator:

Sandy Navarro, Gardening Project Coordinator Email: Sandy@esperanzacommunityhousing,org.
You can also support the garden project by making a donation of plants, trees and gardening supplies or funding to sustain our gardens, donations welcome.

May is Asthma Awareness Month

Did you know: The highest rate of ED visits for asthma in LA County is in the 0-4 yr old age group. Or that Hispanic children are less likely to receive an asthma action plan upon discharge from an asthma hospitalization?

Join us on Tuesday May 20, 2014 at 801 West 23rd Street in South Los Angeles to learn more about the environmental hazards that are causing asthma in our community! Speakers will include Dr. Richard Jackson, Professor and Chair of Environmental Health at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, Jim Mangia, CEO of St. John’s Family Medical Clinic, Nancy Halpern Ibrahim Executive Director of Esperanza Community Housing and 3 community members representing communities affected by Allenco, Murphy, West Adams and Baldwin Hills drilling sites. The event will also include asthma screenings by the Breathmobile and free refreshments!

To learn more about asthma and how you can get involved in asthma awareness contact Loretta Worthington at 213-639-6459

WAD flyer 2014 FINAL

 

Los Angeles Moves Closer To City Fracking Moratorium

 

The Huffington Post  | by  James Gerken

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Friday to advance a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in the nation’s second-largest city.

The motion passed Friday instructs the city’s attorney to draft new zoning regulations that would prohibit fracking and other oil- and gas-well stimulation techniques within city limits until fracking companies can provide city officials with assurances as to future water quality, and can “mitigate the effects on climate change, protect environmental quality and natural resources, promote community awareness [and] “allow government access to and testing of chemicals used.”

“This is about neighborhood safety, about public health and most of all, about common sense,” Council Member Mike Bonin said in an emailed statement. Bonin co-introduced the motion last September with fellow member Paul Koretz. “We cannot continue to allow the safety of our neighborhoods to be jeopardized by dangerous drilling,” Bonin added.

Anti-fracking activists joined Bonin and Koretz in the Los Angeles City Hall rotunda on Friday after the council’s vote.

Nalleli Cobo testifies in front of LA City Counceil to end facking and oil extraction in her community

People Not Pozos – Nalleli Cobo testifies in front of LA City Council to end facking and oil extraction in her community. 

The office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti did not immediately offer any comment on the council’s vote.

Some of the active oil fields around Los Angeles are outside city limits, so the moratorium will not eliminate all fracking operations within Los Angeles County.

Fracking, which has become common in states like Pennsylvania, Texas, North Dakota and others in recent years, is a technique for extracting oil and gas from shale rock formations. After drilling a well, large quantities of water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to fracture the shale and release hydrocarbons.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the state’s first fracking regulations into law last September. The rules, which went into effect at the beginning of this year, require companies to seek permits for fracking, to disclose what chemicals are used and to monitor air and water quality. Yet environmental groups hoped for stricter regulations and a proposed statewide moratorium was removed from the legislation.

Twenty-eight of California’s 58 counties produce oil or natural gas, or both. Fracking has been documented in 10 of them, according to the Center of Biological Diversity.

Despite concerns about surface and groundwater contamination risks from fracking, as well as its significant water consumption in drought-prone areas, California’s Department of Conservation maintains that there has been “no reported damage to the environment” in “more than 30 years” of hydraulic fracturing in the state.

Support us through our Seeds of Hope – Plant Sale to Harvest Change

Esperanza is fundraising to harvest change!

Plant Sale PictureCome visit us at the Mercado La Paloma next week on Thursday & Friday, February 13th & 14th from 11 am – 2pm to purchase a plant for your Valentine and support our community serving projects. All sales directly support Esperanza’s health programs!

Plant sale reservations can be made by emailing Gabriela or Sandy at Gabriela@esperanzacommunityhousing.org or Sandy@esperanzacommunityhousing.org.

Thanks!

Controversial urban oil field voluntarily agrees to halt operations

LA TIMES

Controversial urban oil field voluntarily agrees to halt operations       Allenco Energy Co. will suspend operations at a South L.A. oil field pending completion of investigations into health complaints.

Operations to be halted at L.A. oil field

November 22, 2013, 10:18 p.m.

Operators of a controversial urban oil field in South Los Angeles voluntarily agreed Friday to halt operations pending completion of investigations prompted by complaints from neighbors, who blame noxious vapors for persistent respiratory ailments, headaches and nosebleeds.

The move comes a few weeks after U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) urged Allenco Energy Co. to suspend oil production in the University Park neighborhood, half a mile north of USC, “until the experts tell us it is safe for our most vulnerable populations.”

In a letter to Boxer, Allenco President Peter Allen agreed and said the decision to suspend operations was made “to give you and the residents in our area a greater sense of confidence in our ability to operate responsibly and to appropriately address any concerns.”

Barry Wallerstein, executive director of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said that it “doesn’t happen very often that an operator voluntarily shuts down in response to concerns expressed by the community and its elected representatives — in this case, Sen. Boxer.”

He added that Allen “had committed to make changes in equipment that was responsible for those vapors leaving the facility.”

“He was quite sincere in resolving the problems and making the necessary equipment modifications,” Wallerstein said of Allen.

Allenco is the focus of ongoing investigations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the South Coast air quality agency, the city attorney’s office, the county Department of Health and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which leases the 2-acre site to the company.

“I appreciate the company’s decision to suspend operations,” Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said. “Our investigation into the company’s compliance with the law continues.”

A team of federal and county environmental officers was recently overwhelmed by toxic vapors while touring the site, lending support to residents’ suspicions that odors from the facility are making people sick. The neighborhood surrounding the oil field includes homes and schools, as well as the Doheny Campus of Mount St. Mary’s College.

Complaints related to the facility increased in 2010, when Allenco boosted production at its wells by more than 400%. Neighbors complained to the air quality agency 251 times over the next three years. The air district responded by issuing 15 citations against Allenco for foul odors and equipment problems.

But frustrations over the air district’s inability to say whether fumes from the oil field are hazardous triggered the ongoing investigations aimed at determining the cause of the ailments, as well as the validity of Allenco’s operating permits and the archdiocese’s lease agreements with the company.

“Even while our operations are down, we will continue to work with the regulating agencies,” Allen said in his letter to Boxer. “We will continue to seek advice from the community, and we have already hired engineering firms and environmental consultants to help us improve our operations.”

Neighbors applauded the company’s decision.

“It’s a great victory for a community that has been living and suffering in the air plume of Allenco’s emissions,” said Nancy H. Ibrahim, executive director of Esperanza Community Housing Corp., a nonprofit affordable housing developer in the area bounded by the 110 Freeway, the 10 Freeway and USC.

Said Monic Uriarte, whose 12-year-old daughter is among neighborhood children suffering from frequent nosebleeds:, “What happened today is a lesson for neighborhoods across Los Angeles. Don’t give up.”

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-1123-oil-field-fumes-20131123,0,7551455.story#ixzz2llyEh3B4