A New “Urban Village” at Jordan Downs?

Los Angeles really needs affordable housing. The problem is, developers would rather build high-end housing for the rich because they can make a lot more money. Scads of luxury apartments and luxury condos are being constructed these days, but this really isn’t helping the average angeleno who needs a place to live.

The people who live in the Jordan Downs complex in Watts have been struggling for years. The area needs development badly, but it’s hard to lure investment to a community that’s been plagued by poverty and crime. And you don’t want a developer to go in and demolish the existing housing without giving the current residents an alternative.

So what do you do? Well, in August the LA City Council approved an interesting project. The idea is to build an “urban village” that would combine affordable housing with market rate housing, in other words to create an economically diverse community. The existing seven hundred units would be demolished and eighteen hundred new units would be constructed. The other component of the project is a large retail complex, which would provide jobs and access to stores.

If it works, this project could mark a turnaround for the neighborhood. But some residents and community activists fear that rather than create a diverse community, the result will be gentrification and the families who currently live in the area will be forced out. In the Times article I read, it says,

Officials have promised that the 2,300 Jordan Downs residents “in good standing” can stay in their old units until they move into new ones.

My assumption is that the new units will be rented to the residents at the same price as their old ones. This is an important factor, since any significant increase in their rent could force low-income families out of the new complex.

The idea of creating a mixed income neighborhood is worth pursuing. One of the problems in LA (and other cities) is that there’s an increasing schism between the rich and the poor. It used to be that whites who could afford to live in the suburbs left the city taking their money with them. Now we see more people choosing to live in the city, but this has resulted in the creation of wealthy enclaves in urban areas. Mayor Garcetti and the City Council have been encouraging this trend by catering mostly to developers who want to construct high-end housing for the wealthy. We need to build communities where everyone is welcome, not just the upper class.

Here’s the article that the Times ran back in August when the City Council granted its approval.

City Gives OK to “Urban Village” from LA Times, 8/14/13

Funding for this project isn’t in place yet, so it may not even happen. And even if it does happen, there’s no guarantee it will work. But it is encouraging to see the City of LA promoting a plan that could bring people together, instead of creating islands for the wealthy amid oceans of the poor.

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