Boyle Heights is not an ethnically diverse community. Far from it. More than 90% are Latino, and it has been that way for the past sixty years. The median income is approximately $34,000 annually, and the average home costs $397,00, about half the average for Los Angeles County. But with the opening of the Gold Line Metro at the Mariachi Plaza stop several years ago, gentrification is knocking at their door. Even Gloria Molina, an L.A. County Supervisor, said at the opening of the metro stop, “Naturally, these neighborhoods will be gentrified.” And who’s coming? The typical gentrifying culprits: young, upwardly mobile professionals with their cafés, brunch spots, organic food stores, tattoo shops, art galleries—the aspiring artists who are willing to pay a little bit more in rent than Boyle Heights’ current inhabitants, but who also cannot afford neighborhoods like Silverlake or West Hollywood. With the prime location—thirty minutes to Downtown LA on the train—and cultural vibrancy, Boyle Heights real estate is alluring, but is it ethical to buy there?
That all depends on who you ask. If you ask Serve the People – LA, a local political and community organization who systematically combats eminent domain, rapid development, and the displacement of local people, they would tell you it is imperialism. Their site says, “Our communities struggle with the effects of systematic displacement, deportations, unemployment, underemployment, and criminalization of our youth that destabilizes our community and creates a hostile environment for working class families, particularly women and children . . . it is our responsibility to come together and build revolutionary solutions . . . and to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure such a [safe, healthy, and prosperous] existence.”
But if you asked local business owners, whether they are born and raised in Boyle Heights or not, they would most likely tell you something different. In an article in the LA Times, Conrado Herrera, the owner of Las Palomas and Eastside Luv, said, “You always want to have a space for everybody in the community, but we’ve also got to deal with what’s in front of us.” It does make sense that local businesses would welcome a new resident population who’s coming with spending cash in their pockets.
Whether you’re a local business owner or a militant political organization, everyone would agree that the true villain is rapid and mindless expansion—when developers get in there and buy up huge lots of land and start making tacky, eye-swelling high-rise condos (See: Williamsburg, Brooklyn).
But let’s say you’re a non-Latino young, upwardly mobile, middle-class married couple. You want to buy a townhouse where you can live in the upper-floor where you will eventually raise a family, and rent out the bottom floor, or use it as an AirBnb. You love Boyle Heights’ energy, its atmosphere. You want to add to the culture there, not take anything away. Is it unethical for this couple to buy Boyle Heights real estate? Should Serve the People – LA run them out of town with pitchforks?
In all large cities like Los Angeles, neighborhoods have a natural transformation process. People move in, move out, and leave their mark. At what point do we draw the line and say here are the changes we like, accept, and finance, and here are the ones we don’t?
By: David Plick