An artist concept of the development
Jordan Downs Renaissance
Will the residents be relocated or displaced?
By Yussuf J. Simmonds Managing Editor
The Jordan Downs Redevelopment project is referred to “Creating a Vibrant Village” in the community-based master plan that has been put out by the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles. It calls for the Revitalization Jordan Downs a 5-year, $5-billion housing plan that was launched in 2008 as “Housing that Works.” It is an ambitious redevelopment project designed to remake the Jordan Downs Community, and as expected many of the citizens are concerned. According to the executive summary, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilwoman Janice Hahn view the project as a way to bring sustainable change to South Los Angeles.
The master plan calls for the replacement of the existing housing units, one-for-one and add an additional 900 to 1100 units of affordable housing. A look at the aerial view of the project site–bordered by 97th Street on the north, 103rd Street on the south, South Alameda Street on the east and Grape Street on the west–shows a seven-acre site which the Housing Authority stated would be phase one. There will be no relocation; as phase one is completed, residents will be allowed to move into new homes to release sites for the next phase.
In theory, the master plan is solid, but at present, it is only on paper and the residents of Jordan Downs and the nearby neighborhood that will be greatly impacted by the development, are concerned about gentrification and displacement respectively. And their apprehensions and concerns are not paranoia nor are they founded in a vacuum; historically, they have lived with empty promises and bureaucratic malaise.
Jordan Downs was originally designed as barracks-styled residential buildings to house temporary workers who were employed in the industrial area along the Southern Pacific Alameda railroad corridor during World War II. At that time, the area attracted many Americans who saw the combination of work and comfortable though temporary housing, as a gradual form of upward mobility. However, as Black folks moved in, the other folks moved to the suburbs. At the beginning of the 1960s, its Black population increased and by 1965, the time of the Watts Revolt, it was already all Black. And since then the Jordan Downs Housing area has been through many different social, and now racial, changes. In an effort to gauge the pros-and-cons of the project, the Sentinel reached out to community residents, elected officials and the Housing Authority.
David Brown, who is associated with the Watts Tower Art and Cultural Center said, “I think that when they divide like that, it’s going to change the culture of that community. My concern is that they’re going to bring a whole different group of people into that community and it’s going to allow the existing culture to change.” He further added that he feels they are going to move the residents out and bring in some new blood (people). “In terms of the big picture, there is less and less land available, and they see it as a way of displacing the existing community and bringing in people that are going to be more middle class. More and more, they’re looking for places to develop.”
Valencia Hill, a longtime resident of the area, said, “I was in Nickerson Projects first and I think the White man is trying to get all the Black people outta here and let White people come back and take over. It’s kinda sad for the middle class. Something needs to be done; we need to protest, but there isn’t enough people willing to stand up and protest for their rights. About moving residents by phases of the development, Hill continued, “That’s what they’re doing in Lancaster.” What they will be building in Jordan Downs, she said, “That’s for the White people, it’s not for us.”
Assemblyman Isadore Hall III said, “We need to look at the housing concerns in the community and make sure that we are providing our residents with decent and favorable housing, and that we connect it to an economic base as well, so they can have access to things that people in more affluent middle-class and upper-class communities have. Anything that is framed with that, I am supported of. What I am not supported of is displaced homeowners or renters.” In terms of the Housing Authority’s assurance that there will be no displacements, Hall continued, “I know that the Housing Authority is saying that’s not going to happen, but the reality is that they may say, after they’ve built, ‘Oh, we don’t have enough space because the regs. (regulations), the building plans won’t let us build as many units as we thought. We’re not going to be able to build to accommodate everybody here; so now we’re going to have to place these folks elsewhere.’ And I’m not interested in supporting anything like that. I can assure you that resident over there will be outraged if that happens, so will other members (of the Assemby).”
Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, said, “They (the Housing Authority) have a solid theoretical plan, but there’s nothing to say that things may not go awry and the community comes up short. If the community is happy, Bakewell is happy; and if they are not, I’m not. I’m with the community.”
Timothy “Tim” Watkins, president and CEO of Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), one of the most respected community organizations in the country said, “First of all, I think redevelopment of the projects throughout Watts is inevitable; they have to be redeveloped at some point. But when I got the first information several years ago that it was the plan of the city to go into Jordan Downs, I immediately registered my concern for what the development policy was going to be–meaning are the people who live in Jordan Downs going to be displaced? I was told that there won’t be a displacement policy but that they wanted to utilized the services of local organizations to bring the support that the people (will) need to succeed in a new community.”
And Watkins knows the nuances of creating, revitalizing and supporting a new community. WLCAC has been in the forefront of showcasing the positive aspects of the entire South Los Angeles. He also said that WLCAC owns the southwest portion of the above-mentioned aerial site called Mudtown Farms and that the Housing Authority wanted to buy it as part of their overall development of the area and he has refused. “I want to keep that area to grow food for the people in the area,” he said. In the end, he regarded the entire project “with cautious optimism.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of the proponents of the development said, “Jordan Downs is one of the great community development opportunities in Los Angeles County today. The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles demonstrated in the redevelopment of Pico/Aliso Village, that it can replace dated housing from an earlier era with successful communities that have outstanding outcomes. Because of the strategic location of Jordan Downs, and its proximity to unincorporated County land in Florence Firestone to the north and Willowbrook to the south, the area represents a prime opportunity for cooperation between City and County government. The County will work closely with the City of Los Angeles in specific areas, including supporting annexation of County land to complete the redevelopment site.”
And finally Councilwoman Janice Hahn, in whose district the project is in issued the following statement: “Redeveloping Jordan Downs will completely transform this neighborhood, but we must do it right. I want to make sure that the residents continue to be included as we move forward with this project. While we know that there will never be 100% consensus for the plan, I have been working with HACLA and other elected officials to assure the residents that no one will be displaced and that we are committed to building replacement housing before any current unit is demolished.”
Calls to Rudolf C. Montiel, President and CEO of the Housing Authority did not generate any response. The next step is the Housing Authority’s.