A policy idea for community sustainability

By Belinda Reiss and Celeste Covarrubias-Macias

What is gentrification? Gentrification is an issue that has affected the US for many years. In an article written in the Georgetown Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, author Emily Chong states the effects of gentrification include, “Forced displacement, a fostering of discriminatory behavior by people in power, and a focus on spaces that exclude low-income individuals and people of color.” According to urbandisplacement.org, the US Census reported, “In Los Angeles County, the number of gentrified neighborhoods increased by 16% between 1990 and 2015.”

Just like any other urban area within LA, Culver City is experiencing gentrification. Culver City is a unique community with a rich history. The community has done well in preserving historical landmarks such as the Kirk Douglas Theatre, the Wende Museum, Ballona Creek, etc.

Until recently, this city was described as family-oriented. Neighbors knew neighbors, children played in the street and community members felt a sense of cohesion. In an interview regarding the gentrification of Culver City, Linda Shahinian, a community member of over 20 years and retired social worker, says, “People really knew each other and there was a sense of cohesion. Relationships between community members are deteriorating and there is also an increase in elected officials implementing their own agendas for the community rather than listening to the voices of its inhabitants.”

Shahinian also states that the lack of cohesion is attributed to the community’s low amount of affordable housing and the community’s lack of policies that promote community sustainability contribute to the displacement of Culver City’s members who are not a part of the upper class.

“It didn’t need to be low income housing,” she says. “Just housing for the people who work here like teachers and other people that are not extremely wealthy.”

Loretta Lees and Martin Phillips in their “Handbook of Gentrification Studies” explain that people begin to be displaced from their communities when government subsidized housing is depleted and policies protecting tenants begin to fade. Protection against gentrification means policy that supports tenants and community. Culver City should implement a “Community Investment Policy.” This overarching policy will assist with preventing gentrification by community building, affordable housing and community land trusts.

An example of community building is mentioned in an article by The New York Times, “Community Investment Rescues a Bookstore.” This article describes how a Menlo Park bookstore, impacted by the changes brought by the technology development in Silicon Valley, was brought back into business by the neighborhood individuals who came together to protect an important part of their community. Using the power of community solidarity and strong community relationships, communities can preserve themselves through unity and advocacy.

Another important step to community sustainability is affordable housing development. “Subsidized government housing allows for longtime residents to remain in the community,” says former California Housing President Cesar Covarrubias. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the median cost of housing in California is steadily rising and subsidies are a large component in keeping tenants housed in their original neighborhoods.

Rehousing those who have been displaced from their homes is also an important community resource as gentrification is rapidly displacing folks. City leaders and community members must consider community land trusts. The Journal of Urban Affairs article, “W(h)ither the Community in Community Land Trusts?” tells us that community land trusts have been an effective method since the 1960s for communities to take land off the market and use it to benefit disadvantaged communities. Community land trusts are centered around unity and community building. This approach would not only be cost effective but also contribute to the cohesiveness and interaction of the community.

These strategies can be enacted by collaborating with city council officials regarding the “Community Investment Policy.” With the support of City Council, Culver City can build community through beautifying public spaces and community-led initiatives such as community gardens. Through collaboration with the City Council, we can identify viable locations for affordable housing and land trusts that designate community space for developments that protect community members from displacement and strengthen the community.

Additionally, collaboration with the City Council can encourage partnership with developers and would help to build resources into housing development. Housing developments with a health clinic, childcare agency or computer labs that are accessible to community members would help those in need of these services. Through the community initiatives enacted by the “Community Investment Policy,” Culver City’s members can build a sustainable community that supports community cohesion and community strength that protects the community from gentrification.

Los Angeles County residents Belinda Reiss and Celeste Covarrubias-Macias are Masters of Social Work students at the University of Southern California.

Power to Speak is The Argonaut’s guest opinion column for community members to voice their views on local matters and does not represent an editorial position or endorsement by The Argonaut. The opinions, experiences, research and data analysis expressed in this article are the author’s own. Have a unique point of view on a neighborhood matter or a national issue with a local twist? Email kkirk@timespublications.com.