gentrification & homelessness
the homeless artist blake shane owned a neon company in the 80s and reproduced the iconic neon looks that were popular during the time. he lost his business and warehouse and currently lives in his truck with a parrot. he spends his time between highland park and an encampment in simi valley. he also spends a lot of time in “slab city” where there are hundreds if not thousands of homeless encampments in the dessert.
blake shane’s anonymous street art can be seen in various parts of los angeles, he claims he has done a couple hundred pieces in northeast los angeles over the last ten years. you will recognise a blake shane piece by the obsessively hammered metal work of a oxacan silversmith. he recycles discarded consumer and industrial metal that that has outlived its usefulness in our above ground world. the parts are flattened and sometimes cut into the abstract forms. before their new life as an art object they were as common as a hubcap or manifold. he nails them to the many telephone and power poles that populate the older neighbourhoods of los angeles. his pieces are sometimes small unnoticeable anomalies in the urban landscape to other that are several feet in height that wrap around a utility pole with the casualness of a runaway vine or as some ornate masked face of an urban totem.
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the threads that tie gentrification to displacement are complex and not always visible. this evidence is sometimes circumstantial and occasionally relies on intent. politicians, landlords and developers use the rubric for displacement very literally. in their narrow view only direct displacement exists through a first person action of removing people from their homes. all these players exist in denial of the more subtle displacement that disguises itself behind the laws, eviction processes, the development process or the rise in land values. these cases are used to argue that protections are in place and it is the responsibility of the displaced for losing their rights and homes. the following illustrates the mental and legal pressures of how gentrification has led to homelessness.more text below >>>
david is a 40 year old, college educated, white male, percussionist and music teacher living in highland park with his pit bull for nearly ten years. his girlfriend is constant guest at his apartment. he rented a one bedroom that shared the upstairs landing with another unit in the same restored victorian home. the original owner of the house was an artist and his wife who lived down stairs and painted in a studio-shed in the back of the property. the artist-husband passed away and eventually the property changed title. the new landlord purchased the house in 2009 and proceeded to raise the rent to the legal limit of 3% each year to the current $750 a month.
the demographic of both landlord and tenant is in contrast to the highland park’s typical residents of 2009. it does show what gentrification is truly about which is wealth and poverty. the new landlord is an african american, approximately 30-40 years old, lgbt, nurse and midwife. the business she operates on the ground floor of the house is a holistic healing center for stress and trauma. the property was purchased and is held in trust by her mother.
the home was built in 1900 and subdivided some years later into four units, the ground floor, upstairs has two one bedroom and one studio unit. having been built before october 1978 and with multiple units places it under the rent stabilization ordinance (RSO) or rent control protections. the los angeles housing department at the time deemed the studio unit illegal and the landlord lost a portion her rental income. the remaining units are still very large and are situated in the tree canopy on a quiet street in the heart of highland park. the other tenant is a retired woman on a fixed income working part time as a museum docent in pasadena.
after about three years of incremental rent increases the landlord began a series of harassing behavior with threats to evict. david sought legal advice and more information about his rights many months before the situation escalated. the landlord accused him and his dog of damaging the exterior moulding of a door to the historic home, as well as, his dog was not part of her lease agreement. she issued a “three day notice to quit” which is primarily used to correct a violation of the lease or late rent. often times we have found landlords use these to intimidate or expel uneducated tenants. david offered to pay for the damages, but also learned that his dog was legally allowed as it was part of his original lease with the old landlord. in an attempt to mitigate the conflict, both sought estimates to replace the damaged moulding. david’s estimate came in under $1000, while the landlord’s repair estimate topped out at more than $3500.
the tensions build over the cost differences. the landlord appears to rewrite the house rules as they suit her with a consistent message that she wants him to leave. in one such instance residents are not allowed to park in the ample driveway or property for any reason including loading or unloading. eventually the tensions become so bad that we witness shouting matches between the two on the property. the tenant david was eventually served with an “unlawful detainer” or eviction suit. this might be explained as micromanaging by a novice landlord unfamiliar with the laws and procedures, however the outcome seems to prove differently.
as the day in court approached it became more apparent that the law was on the side of the tenant. instead of the judge deciding who and which amount was reflective of the repair work on the door, the landlord settled with a relocation payment of $7000 for the tenant to move out within (90) days. if one examines the rental data at the time, david’s unit could have been rented for $1200 for its size and exclusivity. that would make the relocation payment and repairs easily recoverable within eighteen to twenty-four months from a new tenant’s rent. the story of many displacements are rooted in this type of subterfuge of a dogs, damages or late rents. because the unit was under RSO the tenant had to break the terms of the lease before the landlord could legally evict them, in this case the landlord used the dog and the door. whether the settlement was a victory for the tenant or the landlord add to this a distressing fact, the legal minimum for a relocation fee in RSO protected housing is $9000 for a single individual.
what happens next is the greater tragedy. many times every person’s first impulse is to blame poor people for their own poverty with the choices they make and their lack of desire to compete or achieve. david’s income for a single male is on the border of poverty. it is difficult for him to admit, but he acknowledges he is not in the mainstream. his bank account like most americans is 2-3 months away from depletion should he lose his job. david maintains his teaching position at a music school in east la, tutors several students and has occasional odd jobs or musical gigs. now, he is faced with a false windfall of $7000 meant to secure his future housing. in his last 90 days he searches for housing options that would include his dog similar to the quality of life he has enjoyed for the last seven years in of highland park. he is developing a vague understanding as he starts to calculate that it may not be possible. he considers room mates and smaller units as options.
then, another rationalisation begins to occur in david’s mind, $7000 is the largest amount he has ever had in his bank account. he could effectively have a savings account now of some worth. however, he also quickly realises if he were to rent an apartment at the current rates, that savings amount would disappear very quickly. david has made his next rational decision based on a future hope to protect his newly found savings and save more money for something that is equal or better. he gives up his housing. many months later i would hear this story again and again from people living in the encampments of the arroyo seco before cedillo’s homeless sweeps. while david couched surfed for many months, he secretly moved into a rehearsal space where he stores some of his possessions. he also works there on the weekends. three years later he still showers at his friends house, the dog stays with other friends. david still sleeps the nights at his place of work without their knowledge.david’s name has been changed and the description of the location where he is living has been minimised to protect him from retribution.
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07.04.13. elsa and her husband are from the yucatan peninsula and have had their business here for more than thirty-five years. her husband is a gregarious man confined to a chair and his cane. they live nearby in a large old craftsman house. she sold the business to edmundo rodriguez a former lausd teacher on the condition that he keep the name and mexican bakery. these are a few of the images from the last days before it changed hands.
in the context of gentrification highland park is experiencing home flipping in the surrounding area and the business district along york begins a second phase of property and small business turn over. the epicenter or first visible change began around 2009 on the corner of avenue 50 with cafe de leche. this next wave has now reached avenue 51 and the elsa’s bakery building nearly three years later. the first to appear was ba french restaurant taking space from the downsized elsa’s bakery. the old elsa’s was part bakery, part corner store with unfinished hand drawn signage on the glass, half stocked shelves of mexican products from abuelitas chocolate to cans of menudito, on the other side in glass cases are fresh baked mexican pastries. in these images you can still see the old landscape and the community at risk of displacement.
these images and text are part of a series that explores gentrification in highland park. the multi-year study is part if the sin turistas archive and collective. (more images about elsa’s available)
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07.04.13. york boulevard runs through the northern section of highland park as the primary east-west artery of the community. it disappears at the arroyo seco bridge where the street turns into pasadena avenue. after a brief turn on pasadena avenue it becomes mission street which is also the east-west artery for south pasadena. before the goldline this road ran seamlessly between these two photographs and these two neighbourhoods.
the socio-economic differences between the two subjects is evident. to further illustrate the dichotomy of south pasadena and highland park when these images were taken, homes in south pasadena were a solid $500-$600k, while highland park’s were barely reaching $300k and rents ranged from $700-$850 per month. as of this day rent for a one-bedroom apartment in highland park has doubled to more than $1500 dollars, homes are listing in the $700k range, while south pasadena remains stable and has inched up incrementally. the problem is not the land values, but the unequal consequences for long time residents and people living on the margins of society. highland park has a 38% poverty rate and starting around 2014 homelessness, evictions and rent increases exploded.
these images and text are part of a series that explores gentrification in highland park. the multi-year study is part if the sin turistas archive and collective.
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these few images are from the sin turistas workshop project that i organise and instruct. the student works can be found on our facebook page, but these are some of mine that were shot during various sessions.
highland park is an old neighbourhood of los angeles that is rapidly changing. it appears to be facing a similar fate as in brooklyn, new york. the residents in highland park were primarily 70% latino in the mid 2000s. their environment is rapidly being replaced by a hip, young, urban and middle class white environment. while the latino population has fallen a small amount, the white population has exploded leaving latinos at 53% of the population. the changing landscape has raised nieghbourhood’s property values and shifted the business services. these rising values have started to displace the most vulnerable.
this set of images goes back and forth from both groups, just as the arguments go back and forth between economic development versus displacing the existing economies. this topic is a personal project. i grew up in northeast los angeles of which highland park is the northern most area. i have been watching this change since i was a boy from one immigrant group to another.