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Panelists search for solutions to gentrification

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — Developers are rapidly buying up properties along the Crenshaw corridor in anticipation of the completion of the Crenshaw LAX Rail Line that will carry up to 16,000 commuters a day and is costing approximately $1.3 billion to build. A number of luxury apartments are in the process of being completed that have residents in South Los Angeles concerned as to whether the high-priced rentals will price them out of their neighborhoods.

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Southern Los Angeles Panel on Gentrification (Photo by: wavenewspapers.com)

By Shirley Hawkins

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Developers are rapidly buying up properties along the Crenshaw corridor in anticipation of the completion of the Crenshaw LAX Rail Line that will carry up to 16,000 commuters a day and is costing approximately $1.3 billion to build.

A number of luxury apartments are in the process of being completed that have residents in South Los Angeles concerned as to whether the high-priced rentals will price them out of their neighborhoods.

Gentrification has become the hot topic and hundreds of people turned out Oct. 5 to attend a town hall meeting on the topic at the South Central Los Angeles Regional Center building on Western Avenue...

Four panels tackled the gentrification issue that included pastors, business and community leaders.

“The problem with gentrification is that there is inclusion that excludes us,” said Pastor Shep Crawford, who urged residents to collectively come together to voice their concerns to the City Council.

“We don’t want our people to be displaced,” Crawford said. “You just can’t come in here and kick us out. If we can all agree on some kind of movement to confront gentrification, then we can’t be stopped.”

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said, “Each [proposed] development should have an inclusionary measure. If the city is going to greenlight a project, it needs to include units that are affordable.

“There’s got to be a political will to get behind it.

“The community needs to craft a comprehensive housing policy and there needs to be an increase in affordable units. The U.S. used to provide over one million affordable housing units a year and this has been reduced to 60,000.”

Pausing, he said, “There needs to be a moratorium. We need to stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to allow you to build any more luxury apartment buildings unless you include affordable housing. There needs to be a zoning policy here in the city of L.A.”

Morial said “New York City has rent control, which is controlled by a rent stabilization board. I would look at the New York City policy to see if it can be applicable to Los Angeles because they have cash and finance subsidies to build affordable units.”

Pastor Xavier Thompson of the Southern Baptist Church said that local churches need to come together and devise a comprehensive plan to tackle gentrification.

“We don’t just say ‘no’ to gentrification, we say ‘Hell, no!” Thompson declared. “When we are pushed out of our communities, we lose our voice and vote. We know that deals are being made in the backroom and the boardroom and we are being left out. If we are going to reimagine [our communities], you have to give us a seat at the table.”

Former NBA player and business owner Norm Nixon added, “From a political perspective, more tax dollars and rich people are moving into the neighborhood.  You have to hold your politicians accountable in order to demand more affordable housing.”

Michael Lawson, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said, “Developers are buying homes and businesses, but they have access to credit — and businesses are bought and sold on credit. Many of us don’t have that option, but we need to start buying property,” he said.

“There are projects in our community that are being greenlighted, but we are actively lobbying the politicians because we need their help,” he said.

“It’s important to know how even one dollar circulates in our community,” Lawson added.  “A dollar in a Korean community circulates for 50 days, but a dollar spent in our community leaves in eight hours.”

Kevin Harbor, president of the UCLA Black Alumni Association who owns an information technology company, said, “My parents moved to Leimert Park in 1967 when I was 10 years old. As I grew up, the value of real estate in the area went up.

“When my children grew to house buying age, I found that they couldn’t even buy in the neighborhood I live in now. They were priced out. Our backs were against the wall.”

Pausing, he said, “Let’s get together and start buying stuff and passing it down. Then we don’t have to ask permission for anything.”

Brian Williams, vice president and chief operating officer for the Los Angeles Urban League, said that gentrification intersects with power, money, racism and classicism. “It is designed for us not to take advantage of the opportunities that surround us,” he said. “It is immoral to deny people housing. It’s a human right, but it’s bound up in a political issue of power.”

“I want everyone to Google opportunity zones and co-op opportunity zones,” said Beny Ashburn, who with her partner, Teo Hunter, owns Crowns & Hops, a brewery located in Inglewood.

“There are programs (to purchase property) that are not being introduced to us,” she said. “Developers are coming in and buying blocks of our community. They have bought up all of Century Boulevard.”

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, whose organization sponsored the town hall, said “There’s a problem in California with the lack of transparency. Developers are giving council people a boatload of money to build these developments.”

The organization founded the Healthy Housing Foundation, which provides affordable housing to individuals living with HIV and AIDS and also provides housing for the homeless population.

“A lot of our clients and employees had to move out of the city to afford housing,” said Weinstein, who added that the organization has purchased five hotels and is actively seeking another hotel to purchase in South Los Angeles. The rent for clients is an affordable $400 dollars a month.

“I felt [gentrification] was a moral outrage — that same as what happened (to clients) during the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s,” he said, adding that one of the foundation’s goals is to maintain and preserve communities.

“Overall, I would say that for a long time, the attitude was no development in South Los Angeles. But I think that’s changed in the last couple of years,” he said.

“People are moving back into the city and Crenshaw and Boyle Heights have become areas for prime investments. I attended an Urban League dinner a few months ago and I said, “If you don’t do something now, Crenshaw will be gone, and it looks like my words are coming true.”

“If the landlord wants to sell an apartment building, they should first ask the tenants if they want to put together their resources to buy the building,” said Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, a candidate for the Long Beach City Council.

“We have to start thinking, ‘How do I come together with my community in order to buy homes and commercial assets?’”

“If you have a self-directed [individual retirement account], you can spend money from that IRA to buy a business,” Harbour said.

“We’ve got to realize that this is a real fight between the haves and the have nots,” Harbour added. “There needs to be a paradigm shift so that we can work together. If we go in collectively and say, ‘You will do this,’ then they will do it. We need to figure out the solution and not ask for permission.”

The article first appeared in the Wave Newspapers

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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NNPA – Black Press w/ Hendriks Video Interview

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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