LOS ANGELES – Rapid gentrification in downtown Los Angeles is forcing many Latino residents and merchants to move to neighborhoods with more affordable space.
Old buildings are being reincarnated as posh restaurants or replaced by high-rise residential buildings offering awesome views of the city.
The urban transformation has driven up rents and living costs for downtown’s roughly 50,000 residents, many of them Latinos.
Kimberly Cabada and husband Peter Hagan have spent the last two years living in a building on Spring Street, a thoroughfare with a high concentration of trendy bars and restaurants.
The rent started at $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. Though they were able to avoid an increase last year, this year’s hike to $2,240 is forcing them to move, Cabada told Efe.
“The problem is the lack of rights for renters,” Hagan said. “We should be entitled to some rights when we have been living here for so long.”
In two weeks, Cabada and Hagan will begin paying a monthly rent of $1,200 for a one-room apartment in a Victorian house in Boyle Heights, an overwhelmingly Hispanic community in East Los Angeles.
“We also ask ourselves whether by moving to Boyle Heights we are contributing to the gentrification of this other area,” Hagan said.
The renewal of downtown Los Angeles began in 1997 with the building of the Staples Center, the home of the NBA Lakers and Clippers, and gained momentum two years later when a city ordinance paved the way for the restoration of historic buildings and the conversion of abandoned industrial facilities into luxury housing.
Those steps helped to attract investment to revive a derelict area where nobody wanted to live, but is now on the way up amid a boom in culture and the arts.
“The Broad (art museum) is being built next to the Walt Disney Hall, and this is immensely important for downtown and for the movement it will generate along with MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art),” said Marisa Caichiolo, director of the Ibero-American section of the Los Angeles art fair.
The new glamour downtown is suffocating existing small businesses in the area.
“It is harming us too much because the rent soared and Latinos are not coming here anymore,” said Fernando Victoria Lopez, owner of Maria Baby Please, a shop selling perfumes and bath products.
Lopez’s store is located near Broadway Street, an avenue with several old-time theaters where revitalization has been promoted by Jose Huizar, the Hispanic who represents District 14 on the city council.
“Huizar is destroying Latino business,” Lopez said, adding that last November he lost one of the two shops he had on the street.
Efe tried without success to get Huizar to outline his vision for Broadway Street, a sector that includes the venerable Grand Central Market, which once thrived with produce stores, butcher shops and kiosks selling tacos and pupusas at affordable prices.
After a thorough renovation of its façade and interior, the market has now only a handful of such kiosks amid an abundance of chic restaurants offering oysters, gourmet snacks and minimalist burgers.