Sun, May

The Ultimate Oxymoron – LA Lawmakers and Affordable Housing


EASTSIDER-Recently someone suggested I take a look at an LA Times article entitled, “California doesn’t have enough affordable housing, and lawmakers aren’t doing much about it.” 

It got me thinking. I honestly don’t know what “affordable housing” means anymore in Los Angeles. To the City Council, it seems to mean giving away public land and/or tax breaks and/or wholesale variances so that big developers can build more hundred-unit monstrosities by providing a handful of un-affordable “affordable housing” units. 

My first up close and personal experience with housing projects, which I guess is what the euphemism partly stands for these days, was Jordan Downs (photo above). In the late 60’s, I was a social worker in Watts assigned to the General Relief Intake program, (probably called something different today ever since President Clinton “eliminated welfare as we know it”), and obviously a number of the home calls I made were to the Jordan Downs housing project. 

The one thing I’ll give to this place is that it really was affordable. People could actually live there and, heck, usually the roofs didn’t even leak. And there were a lot of really nice people living there. Also a number of really sad and desperate people. I may have flunked the PC course, but I don’t exactly know what anyone expected when too many of the youth there got a crappy education, had extensive police records, and, over all, little hope of getting a (legal) job. 

What I really remember is that I was there on welfare too – it was just a different part of the same program. But since I was a white college educated Berkeley type, I was getting paid a heck of a lot more than the GR recipients I was trying to “help” navigate through the dense, complex paperwork needed to get a very few bucks and a lot of hassle. As I recall, what’s now DPSS was then called the Department of Charities. I kid you not. Brings to mind sad scenes out of a Charles Dickens novel. 

At the same time, Jordan Downs was very much better than a lot of the alternatives people had for housing in my world. You had to have an address to even apply for welfare, and some of the addresses were pretty rough. 

All this also reminded me of an article in the LA Times back in 2013 describing how the Jordan Downs Housing Project was going to be torn down. Comparing that article to the policy wonk LA Times piece about lawmakers and housing, who could resist? What a juxtaposition. 

And by the way, what’s this stuff about Jordan Downs being the worst? I remember the Aliso Village projects in Northeast LA, over on 1st and Clarence. That place was no joke. Of course, in celebration of the millennium, the City tore down Aliso Village around 2000. As I recall, the “new” Pueblo del Sol which supplanted it, attracted a more upscale crowd; the inhabitants of Aliso Village got dumped harder than folks did during the Chavez Ravine giveaway to the O’Malley’s (of Dodger Stadium fame.) 

My question is, what happens to the people who used to be able to survive in housing projects and other forms of actual affordable housing? Do they just go away? Do they die? Do they become homeless so that the City and the Mayor can then try to raise taxes to “help” them? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t see anyone writing about these realities. 

Where are the low wage, often undocumented, folks going to go? You know, the ones that the rest of us in LA depend on to provide all the services people don’t want to do ourselves, and don’t want to pay even a minimum wage for? Where will my friends in Northeast LA go when they lose their work? Will they quietly slip away, not to be seen again? People don’t want to talk about this issue. It’s as if something bad will happen if we even try to have an honest discussion. 

To put this in context, let’s look at the 2020 Commission. Remember that? The first part of its report, “A Time for Truth,” indicates that some forty percent of families in LA either make poverty wages or are unemployed. The poverty rate is defined as a very low $23,850 a year. If these folks pay $1500 a month for rent, then that would leave $5850 to pay for everything else for that year. Fat chance. 

So, it seems to me that we don’t have any affordable housing anymore. The tiny slice we do have is in the process of being developed out of existence. To be crude about it, the “old” housing project model is being dumped, along with the folks who lived there. The “new” affordable housing model seems to consist of big new developments, with median rents close to $3000 a month along with a few “affordable” housing units in exchange for all the sleazy breaks that the lawmakers can give their developer lords and masters.

As a long time Californian, I find these changes really depressing. And I wonder what happens when folks renting these new expensive abodes lose a gig, split from their partner, or get sick. Maybe I’m wrong. Heck, I hope I’m wrong. 

If anyone knows about any real affordable housing that’s happening in the City of Angels, let me know. It would be a lot more newsworthy than the Mayor’s new budget. 


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Get The News In Your Email Inbox Mondays & Thursdays





Most Read