Under the theme, “Watts is Worth It,” city officials, developers, residents, and activists broke ground on the new Jordan Downs public housing development on Monday.
The 700-unit complex, infamous for gang violence that has declined drastically since the 1992 Watts Gang Peace Treaty, is being transformed into a mixed-use, mixed-income urban village, replete with 1,400 new affordable housing units, nine acres of open space, a supermarket, parks, and community center.
Phase 1A will consist of 115 affordable rental apartments in 12 buildings on 3.15 acres. The master developer team of BRIDGE Housing and the Michaels Organization anticipate the completion of 250 units over the next two years.
“This is what history feels like,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, as he thanked all who helped bring the project to fruition.
He said L.A. is in a housing crisis, with a 20 percent increase of people living on the streets. He further stated Watts still experiences double-digit unemployment and under employment, despite a 20 percent reduction in joblessness across the country.
Construction of the new development will help in the long run, and provide economic growth for Blacks and Latinos because it mandates that Watts residents are 30 percent of all new hires, Garcetti said.
Another key point is Jordan Downs residents could move in without worries of not having a home, he continued.
Kim McKay, executive vice president of BRIDGE Housing, emceed the program, which began with prayers by Jesus Vela, pastor of St. Lawrence Brindisi, and Elder Michael Cummings of We Care Outreach Ministries.
Conscientious restaurant Locol’s food truck was on hand, as well as various vendor booths, which provided diapers, healthcare resources, and children’s activities, including a coloring station, photo booth, and game section.
Performances by the Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary Jr. Mariachi Band and the David Starr Jordan High School Drum Line percussion bookended special remarks.
Speakers also included Doug Guthrie, president and CEO of the L.A. Housing Authority, Cynthia Parker, president and CEO of BRIDGE Housing, Kecia Boulware, vice president of Development for The Michael Organization, Raul Anaya, president, Greater Los Angeles Bank of America, Alice Carr, senior vice president, JP Morgan Chase, and Amada Valle, president, Jordan Downs Resident Advisory Council.
Guthrie and others hailed Watts residents and activists, such as Betty Day, president of the Watts Gang Task Force, for their great efforts to uplift the community and ensure the new development’s success.
“Today, it’s a beautiful thing, really. I might not have thought that much about it before it started, because I was wondering where the people were going to go, and how they were going to work this,” she said.
While Day feels there’s still much work, she noted things look good and feels they will work out as the start of something good.
“I think we all need to pitch in and try, because they’re doing a good job, and we have to give it to Housing and whoever else it is…They’re really making progress, and the people will be living better than what they were living. The place will be cleaned up, different. People will think about them different, and this will give them a chance to work at something,” she said.
Day is especially concerned about the jobs aspect and the fact residents will have decent places to live, she said.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here,” she added.
Valle echoed recurring sentiments that the project will bring hope back into the Watts community.
“They put their vision in Jordan Downs. I want to say thank you. I’m very grateful. May God bless you all, and please, never, ever take your vision from Jordan Downs,” said Valle, who spoke through a translator.
The Renewed Watts will have more youth programs, better policing, an expanded counseling and learning center, and will attract more internationally-acclaimed architects and designers, L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino remarked.
“It really does take a village, and after many years of hard work by our partners and team, we are thrilled to start construction,” said Parker.
“Large-scale public housing revitalization demonstrates how we can enrich the fabric of communities, make wise use of land, and pair stable homes with the services people need to thrive and grow. We are excited to bring new opportunities to Jordan Downs residents and to Watts,” she continued in a press release.