Since the early 2000s there has been talk about the gentrification of South Central, Los Angeles. While the average neighborhood might require a decade to gentrify, rehabilitating South Central has taken over fifteen years and counting.
What was once a big giant swath of urban decay, smack dab in the middle of the city, is now sold to potential homebuyers as a quaint collection of affordable neighborhoods with posh names like Hyde Park, Park Mesa Heights, and View Park. It all sounds so enticing for potential homebuyers priced out of just about every place else in Los Angeles. The only problem is the sketch factor in South Central isn't quite as removed as creeping house prices might have you believe.
While house prices are comparable to Highland Park and Glassell Park, South L.A., as it is now referred, remains second to downtown in homeless population, and violent crime is still a serious problem. Gone may be the era of the Crips and Bloods with daily drive-by shootings, but remaining is property crime and the ghetto bird lighting up the night sky.
South L.A. never got that that bohemian influx that usually primes a neighborhood for the yuppie takeover. South L.A. has been transformed in a different sense--changed from black neighborhoods to brown neighborhoods. Central American immigrant families bought up homes in South Los Angeles. Lately, these homebuyers are forced to tackle rising mortgages by combining households. Communities for these residents are easy to forge since much of South Central was already Chicano. Now these enclaves of South L.A. are expanding out to link up to East Los Angeles, El Este. This gentrification may add a few more cars on the block and vendors pushing carts on the street, but it also boasts excellent cheap eats, mom and pop shops and Chicano festivals. What this gentrification doesn't offer is a serious drop in crime, especially since the local 18th Street gang, a Chicano gang, is now the largest gang in Los Angeles--a symptom of L.A.'s unemployment problem.
According to L.A. Times data, in just the last six months of 2014, there were 236 violent crimes in Hyde Park, 528 property crimes in neighboring Leimert Park, and 216 violent and property crimes per 10,000 people in Vermont Square. A man was shot walking his dog on December 15th, and a woman was raped on West Vernon Avenue on January 8, 2015. L.A.'s top five ranking neighborhoods for violent crime are all South L.A. neighborhoods. Comparatively, during the last six months of 2014, there were 26 violent crimes in Glassell Park, and in all of Los Angeles, Highland Park ranks 70 in violent crime and 163 in property crime.
Because South L.A. hasn't had a transformative drop in crime, it also hasn't drawn urban professionals, college graduates, into the area. The rate of college graduates in South Los Angeles is 8.2%--well below the city's average. These professionals aren't buying up homes in South L.A. because home prices there are already becoming unaffordable for artists and couples without children, which is quite significant.
It used to be that artists and couples without children moved into struggling neighborhoods at their own peril to get a good deal on a home. Consequently, the neighborhood became safer and thus more "walkable," attracting local businesses, which resulted in improvement in schools and a rise in house prices. That is the way it has been done in every urban neighborhood across America since the Sixties. These days, before the neighborhood even gets safe, with little more than a coat of paint and new bathroom tiles, investors and realtors are raising house prices in South Los Angeles as much as 50% in anticipation of gentrification. And whatever overage the appraiser won't greenlight on the mortgage, home buyers are expected to pay in cash. So not only are urban professionals expected to risk their person and property to clean up South L.A., they are expected to pay top dollar for the privilege.
There is no consideration amongst realtors or sellers to entice urban professionals to move into South L.A. Realtors and sellers, most of whom are investors buying homes relatively cheap for cash, seem to be betting on the notion that urban professionals have little other choice than South L.A. Prospective homebuyers have gone just about as far northeast as they can before entering Pasadena. House prices in South Los Angeles may be high for the rough part of the city, but they are still considerably cheaper than most of Los Angeles.
It's not just the sellers in South L.A. who disregard urban professionals, Mayor Garcetti has completely forgotten them in his high-density plan for the city, which means to turn small-home communities into an apartment rental megalopolis. There will be no yards and dining rooms for the middle class of his Los Angeles.
With jobs disappearing, starter salaries in decline, and average incomes flatlining, it is impossible for middle-class American families to buy a home in Los Angeles. Those that dare, leverage their entire future to do so. While this dilemma to some politicians might just mean the next mortgage profitable crisis for campaign-donating bankers, it is causing many urban professionals to look beyond Los Angeles for their American Dream.
Nearly four million Californians have left the state in the past decade. Most of them are young urban professionals interested in starting a family and buying a home. These couples are taking their taxable incomes out of Los Angeles to Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, and any other place where major corporations and start-ups offer good-paying jobs, and the city offers affordable housing. Ultimately, what these urban professionals leave behind is not broken dreams, but yet another American city that refuses to adapt to shifting economic realities and preserve its middle class. In the case of Los Angeles, it is scary to think that it may someday become what its politicians have designed it to be, a city for the few uber rich and the many domestic workers who maintain their homes and gardens.