In our 47th episode, we chat with Samanta Helou-Hernandez, our fellow East Hollywood resident and cross collaborator who’s also co-hosting with yours truly for Making Our Neighborhood: Redlining, Gentrification and Housing in East Hollywood this Thursday, March 4th, ’21. Samanta and I discuss the background for this special event for our community, and about the importance of our work together in the current media and policy landscape in Los Angeles. To help us complete our fundraiser for translation services on the day of the event, please do so via our FUNDLY.


(Re)Making Our Neighborhood – An Excavation of East Hollywood, Part III

This is the third installment of a three-part series.

“The Marshalls were close to their Japanese-American neighbors, particularly the Hoshizakis and the Kakibas, who lived on either side of them. Their daughter, Barbara Marshall, remembers food and culture being exchanged over the hedges of their houses.” – Samanta Helou-Hernandez, This Side of Hoover

The Japanese American and African American families documented on This Side of Hoover were the types of families in East Hollywood whom a band of real estate appraisers & L.A. County officials in the 1940s would come to label “undesirable” for investment. Today, the area, east of Hollywood and west of Silver Lake, is a majority-immigrant community where nearly 4/5ths of the population rent apartments, and which is also disproportionately policed over increasingly valuable real estate for appraisers.

Data shows that since 1980, when areas like East Hollywood saw their first major waves of immigration from Latin America and Asia, rents in Los Angeles jumped 55%, even as incomes increased only by 13%.

Since 2000, Ellis Act evictions have taken nearly 500 housing rent-stabilized units out of East Hollywood. Ellis Act evictions take place when landlords decide to convert buildings into condominiums. At the same time, homelessness in the 13th district, of which East Hollywood is a part of, has led to at least 544 families without housing since 2019. The total number of unhoused people in the 13th district has climbed to at least 8,000, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

What a city’s leadership “does” with groups of people is what a city does for a past, present and future. Nearly one hundred years since deed restrictions in Los Feliz–a wealthier neighborhood to the north of East Hollywood–stated in their clauses that only members of the “Caucasian Race” were allowed to own property in the area, Black residents in East Hollywood now face the highest rates of homelessness and policing of their bodies. Non-white immigrant communities face the second highest rates of homelenessness and policing.

In the days leading up to our panel series, we’ve sought to honor our communities, be they Black, Asian-American and Pacific Islander, Armenian and/or Latinx with pamphlets on our shared histories in the neighborhood, signs pointing to the areas once deemed “blighted” due to our presence, and in other ways still not yet seen from state, federal and municipal offices charged with such duties.

As we discuss redlining in East Hollywood then, it’s also important to note that Los Angeles was not always segregated between wealthy neighborhoods on the west and north sides and impoverished neighborhoods in the central, east and south sides. Redlined neighborhoods in Los Angeles actually meant that neighborhoods were integrated, made up of Black, immigrant, and European-born residents. The clearest consequence of redlining and related policies was explicit government investment in dividing cities by racial makeup, which eventually came to promulgate the false notion that universal human necessities such as housing, education, and healthcare should serve only some residents at the expense of others.

What’s also important to note is that Black and immigrant groups who were called “undesirable” for investment by the Homeowners Loan Corporation (HOLC) were groups of laborers, many of whom worked for the city’s biggest industries in the 20th century before WW2, that of service and agriculture. Black and Japanese residents served wealthier white residents in areas like Los Feliz as babysitters, nurses, and in other roles of hospitality. Historically, Black and immigrant communities in Los Angeles played critical roles in making the state of California the fifth largest state in the U.S. by 1950.

Here are also a few interesting questions for participants to consider as our panel series takes place: What would areas like East Hollywood look like today if Black and immigrant communities hadn’t been redlined and were actually invested in, or allowed to own homes and supported adequately in doing so? How many unhoused groups would form throughout the decades following the 1940s? And how much crime and policing could have been avoided in the neighborhood over the last 80 years?

A friend also asked, “Would there have been a 101 Freeway?” Which naturally leads to the question of whether there would still be so many groups sheltering underneath the “free” way.

Redlining is also a “big deal” because it entailed private and public officials marking people as inherently hazardous to one another due to racial difference, not unlike an unsafe “building condition.” For example, there were certain parts of the northern portion of Hollywood that were redlined not because Black or immigrant people resided there, but due to an unsafe dam.

Private and public officials feared–or at least professed–that racially different groups living together could only lead to racial rioting, which was prevalent from the 50s – 60s, though largely over the same issues: housing, employment, and police discrimination against Black and other non-white bodies. But if groups of different skin color could only lead to rioting, then what explains the inter-ethnic community between Black and Japanese American families like those noted by This Side of Hoover’s reporting work? Instead of rioting against one another, different groups in Los Angeles, including Black, immigrant and also white, have continually come together in East Hollywood even without much support from local, state and federal officials. They still do.

Today Los Angeles is also witnessing the rise of a new generation of multi-ethnic groups organizing to advance justice and equity in the city, particularly in the area of Tenants Rights, though more interethnic movements still remains to be forged. At the same time, the vast majority of our public officials continue to appear as distant as ever from such work on the ground towards equity. Clearly much has changed since the 1940s, while much has remained entrenched, namely racist policies against non-white, working-class groups.

But if Los Angeles needed a reminder that Black people have worked to advance justice for ALL groups, or create justice where it was left wanting, including in this city and not just the historic U.S. south, our panel series and the stories contained in it are those reminders.

“I didn’t know we were in an integrated neighborhood until I learned about that word. To be able to walk down the street without fear of people calling you names because everybody was part of the neighborhood.” -Barbara Marshall

Ms. Marshall’s endearing description of everyone belonging to the neighborhood she called home brings to mind a question posed by L.A. Poet Mike Sonsken, when he asks: “Whose story do we tell?!”

In today’s Los Angeles, every resident, whether in the celebrity or political class or not, is a part of this city. But civic groups continue to have to hound at L.A.’s political leadership to “seize the hotels” in order to shelter L.A.’s most vulnerable, who are predominantly Black and immigrant groups, even as the federal government has ensured 100% reimbursement for this procedure. The fact is that the neighborly thing for our most privileged leaders to do would be to ensure such civic groups don’t have to spend precious time and resources making such common sense calls.

Even so, as storytellers, with our panel series we are uplifting elders, activists currently on the ground in Los Angeles, scholars, and even more of what makes East Hollywood and any neighborhood like it more than just “worth” honoring for a moment, but something worth honoring at length. Already, we have taken the historical truths of redlining and gentrification and flipped them to serve more than just one group or narrative. Our political officials can do the same, and then some. Tune into our series to find out more, which begins on March 4th, 2021, and pose your questions for us or our panelists at our new website for the event: Hope.xyz/MakingOurNeighborhood.