For our 76th episode, we sit down for a chat with Matthew Tinoco, the newest co-host of the LA Podcast. We discuss Matt’s growing up in the San Fernando Valley, as well as the city’s “old” politics there, Matt’s intersectional identity, or Latinx roots, his journalistic work on L.A.’s homelessness crisis since 2015, particularly after the fatal shooting of unhoused resident ‘Africa,’ or Cameroon, in downtown L.A.’s Skid Row, and more. Matt and I also discuss his latest efforts with the LA Podcast, including the recently introduced newsletter for readers and fund-drive, also known as New-Member September. Support LA Podcast via Patreon. A can’t miss session for lovers of indie media in Los Angeles.
In our 74th episode, we chat with Oscar Monroy, a father of four from Echo Park and owner of the recently closed Cuscatleca Bakery along Sunset boulevard. Oscar and I discuss his family’s roots in Los Angeles since the 1970s, and how his parents (hailing from Mexico and El Salvador) first came to establish Panaderia Cuscatleca in the Pico-Union area in the early 2000s. We also discuss being Latinx in L.A. (including as “Mexidorans”), the future of the Latinx demographic in the U.S. (whose population currently numbers at 60.6 million), the current struggle for families like Oscar’s in the midst of gentrifying Echo Park, and much more. A can’t-miss session for any and all ‘coming up’ in the city of Los Angeles, and the first installment of a three-part discussion for Los Cuentos.
In 2015, a seventeen year old Latino youth named Leo Ramirez was shot and killed at an intersection I’ve walked to and from home for nearly three decades. I wondered why in our neighborhood specifically, young men like Leo seemed to lose their lives each year, with only candlelights and graffiti-sprayed “R.I.P”s to show for it. Had our neighborhood been forgotten, or set up to fail? At that time, I hadn’t known about the history of redlining in Los Angeles, but since then, I’ve uncovered more than a handful of cuentos about such policies to consider why so many of the places we call home are shaped as they are.
Almost a hundred years ago, in the 1930s, the U.S. population was 89% white, and its cities were filled with over 13 million people without work. Of these jobless masses, at least 2 million were recorded without housing, or living in “Hoovervilles,” rivaling today’s myriad of encampments across Los Angeles, colloquially known as Garcetivilles. Fortunately for many, however, a “New Deal” was on the horizon.
From the late 1930s to the late 1960s, the federal government teamed up with states and cities to build housing, recognizing that a stable place for residents to call home was a basic necessity for their ability to work and raise families. But there was just one caveat to Uncle Sam’s massive building experiment: If housing developers wanted subsidies or tax breaks, they had to build residential areas where only members of the “Caucasian Race” were allowed. This effectively barred nearly all Black and immigrant people from a shot at improved housing, and by extension, improved work opportunities and the ability to raise healthy, stable families in their communities.
By the time the federal housing program came to an end in the late 1960s, housing was segregated across U.S. cities everywhere. And one of the most lasting consequences of the program was the creation of the “NIMBY,” or “Not In My Backyard” activists. After benefiting heftily from thirty years of redlining, these groups would and continue to successfully oppose attempts to integrate their wealthier, largely white vicinities with non-white, lower-income residents on the basis of protecting “property values.” This is what left neighborhoods like the one Leo and I grew up in largely stranded.
We jump forward from the 1960s to the present momentarily. Today, many Black and immigrant families in Los Angeles whose neighborhoods were redlined see higher levels of homelessness due to segregation, wage inequality, neglected housing, and other forms of disinvestment concentrated in our vicinities. As recently as 2019, for example, just three of fifteen districts on the east and south sides of Los Angeles contained 41% of the city’s homeless population, all of which were heavily redlined for their Black and immigrant residents during the Feds’ building boom. Neighborhoods in these areas include Skid Row and Boyle Heights, South Central, Leimert Park, the Crenshaw corridor, and more. Additionally, according to a point-in-place count from 2019, of an estimated 70,000 unhoused people, nearly 80 percent are Black and Latino residents. And with unabated gentrification, or increasingly less housing options for families due to a growing number of luxury lofts and other exclusionary, unaffordable living options, these numbers stand to rise further.
Gentrification in Los Angeles is also a segregated phenomenon of sudden, unseemly investment in land once considered “undesirable”–according to the U.S. government–on the basis of race, i.e. redlining. The Pacific Palisades, Malibu, and Brentwood, for example, or historically greenlined, largely white communities, have not seen such rapid, unorderly development. Rather, NIMBYs in these areas have mastered “slow growth,” or litigation to prevent new, more affordable housing units that would benefit Black, Brown, and white and asian communities all over the city. Yet this could have been avoided if Black and immigrant communities’ calls for fair housing policies had been taken seriously by federal and state offices over the decades, especially in the 1960s.
From Harlem to Watts, the 1960s counted the highest numbers of racial rioting in the history of the United States. While popular narratives about social movements during this decade focus on voting rights and desegregating the U.S. South, the fact is that social unrest in the 1960s was largely due to derelict housing conditions and minimal work opportunities, especially for Blacks, in the U.S. North. By 1968, then, when the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. set off hundreds of riots in cities everywhere, Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission to name the root cause of the unrest. The Kerner report’s conclusions were cut and clear:
“Fifty-six percent of the country’s non-white families live in central cities today, and of these, nearly two-thirds live in neighborhoods marked by substandard housing and general urban blight. For these citizens, condemned by segregation and poverty to live in the decaying slums of our central cities, the goal of a decent home and suitable environment is as far distant as ever.”
In hindsight, the commission’s report was simply describing “the hood” before it became common nomenclature to identify redlined communities as such. Despite the report, however, federal action to desegregate housing after 1968 would be minimal to non-existent. While the Fair Housing Act, signed in 1968, technically banned any form of racial discrimination in private or federal housing such as redlining, it largely lacked enforcement provisions and thus did little to integrate suburbs originally divided from the inner city along racial lines. This left Black and immigrant neighborhoods to depreciate, especially as manufacturing jobs and other employment available to “low-skill” workers would disappear in the following decades. In other words, even after civil rights gains were made on paper, policies of racial disinvestment were largely left intact.
By the early 1970s, moreover, housing by the Feds was in for makeover, as the Nixon administration suddenly froze all funds for new housing initiatives by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in a four-year moratorium or “shut-off” for the agency. This was followed by a devolution of authority in 1974, or passing the responsibility to build new housing to state and city governments.
Just like that, after 30 years of sponsoring all-white suburbs, the Feds abruptly left the business of housing when Black and Brown communities needed it most–including as veterans from these groups returned from war in Vietnam–and despite how they never saw even a tenth of the housing investment whites did.
The final nail in the federal coffin for housing was that devolution failed to account for how most city and state budgets did not rake in enough revenue to invest significantly in desegregating neighborhoods–and thus, environments–via housing. The 1970s then saw the rise of Section 8 housing vouchers, which proved to be far more lucrative for landlords than for renters, and which now make up the Fed’s largest housing assistance program, providing an estimated 2.2. million people in the U.S.–and their landlords–with rental support annually.
Following Nixon’s moratorium, the 1980s saw less housing construction in the U.S. than in the previous decade. But in the “Golden State,” the rate for new housing construction fell abysmally; two decades after Nixon’s moratorium, the average rate of new housing fell from 215,000 new housing units a year in 1970 to just over 110,000 new units a year by 1999. This benefited older, white populations, while simultaneously burrowing Black and Brown communities further into strained housing environments–including Central American refugees displaced in the 1980s through “anti-communist” U.S. policy in the region, as well as Mexican migrants escaping an economically “lost decade” in their country due largely to U.S. debt obligations.
It’s conditions like these that youth like Leo and I inherited without our knowledge. But what I still had to learn at the time of his passing was how to outline the housing and living conditions ill-suited for the healthy development of most families in our community. Now, I can state for a fact that the census tract for the area Leo and I called home shows a Median Household Income of $34,000 a year, or roughly half of L.A. County’s, placing the majority of families in the area within the federal poverty level. Public records also state that at least 20% of people living on this tract rely on food stamps to pay for meals and groceries, a rate second only to that of the tract below, where 23% of residents rely on food stamps.
East Hollywood, or the larger area encompassing the blocks we grew up in is also 60% Latinx, where almost 90% of residents rent their housing. The area also saw at least $5 million in expenditures between 2012-2017 to arrest and incarcerate its Black and Brown residents, more than twice the rate spent in the adjacent Silver Lake and Los Feliz neighborhoods, which were bluelined and greenlined for their “desirable” white residents in the days of the Feds’ aforementioned building boom. Our neighborhood was in fact marked from the beginning, then, but now we mark its cuento to uplift a different future for Leo, yours truly, and more.
In our 73rd episode, we chat with Jamie Tijerina, a Cal Tech Researcher, president of the Highland Park Neighborhood Trust, and author of The Legacy of Redlining in Los Angeles, a white paper absolutely adored by yours truly. Jamie and I discuss the paper, as well as the city’s egregious pension benefits for L.A.’s former police officers and firefighters (exceeding the IRS limit of $200,000 a year), and her candidacy for Council District 14 (formerly Jose Huizar’s and now Kevin De Leon’s) in 2019. We also discuss Jamie’s successful, three-year long effort to designate the Chicano Arts Collectives of the Highland Park neighborhood as Historic-Cultural Monuments (HCMs) through an official voting process at the L.A. City Council, student debt, and more. A can’t-miss session for community organizers in Los Angeles.
In our 71st episode, we chat with Alexandria Contreras (@alexfordowney) (they/them), a queer, non-binary Latinx freeway-fighter in Downey. Alex and I have a magnetic conversation on the white and exclusionary origins of single-family housing in cities like Downey, and how local laws there continue preventing the construction of affordable housing for a new generation of residents. We also discuss how Alex took their experience growing up in the suburban community to launch a campaign for City Council there. Alex also describes forming the Happy City Coalition, a coalition of gateway cities in Southeast Los Angeles formed to stop Metro from displacing communities in the interest of more freeways. To keep up with their work, follow Alex on Twitter at @alexfordowney.
In our 69th episode, we chat with Robin Petering (@robinpetering), the executive director of Lens. Co, a research and advocacy company committed to ending youth homelessness in Los Angeles. We speak with Robin about her journey from community-based clinics in Oregon as an undergrad student to her PHD program at USC, which she completed in 2017. Robin and I discuss the definition of “youth homelessness,” including what we do not know about youth experiencing housing insecurity given our current frameworks. We also shout out the Hello Dogtown podcast, a podcast by and for youth with lived experiences of homelessness. Hello Dogtown is produced by Lens Co in partnership with Safe Place for Youth and funded by the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health Innovations 2.
In our 68th episode, we chat with Kenny Uong, a Junior undergraduate student studying Metro and Urban Planning at Cal State Northridge, and one of the most recognizable figures for the urban planning community in Los Angeles today. Kenny and I discuss the roots of his passion for all things Metro, the importance of bus-only lanes for transportation service, Metro’s NextGen rollout, and more. See if you can keep up with Kenny’s various adventures via public transpo on Twitter at @_KennyUong_.