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

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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.