Making Quality Housing Affordable Again for Latinos in Los Angeles

By Agatha So, Policy Analyst, Economic Policy Project, NCLR

ELACC and partners with tenants’ rights fighters and allies from all over the state of California. Photos: ELACC

Homeownership continues to be essential to the creation of Latino family wealth, yet many Latino families are still trying to recover from the loss of their home to foreclosure during the financial crisis, as well as job loss during the recession that hit Latino communities hard.

For families who live in expensive cities like Los Angeles, homeownership can seem even further out of reach. In L.A., more than half of a family’s earnings goes to rent, and at 38%, Latinos have a lower rate of homeownership compared to other groups in the city. Even as families overall might pay less for a mortgage than on rent, Latino renters have difficulty saving for a down payment, let alone for a mortgage that would require nearly three times their median household earnings. Faced with this problem, community-based affordable housing organizations are finding creative ways of engaging community residents to make housing affordable for all.

As part of our homeownership blog series for Fair Housing Month, we are spotlighting East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), a member of the NCLR Homeownership Network (NHN), that works with the Latino community in L.A. to ensure that quality affordable housing is available to all residents. Recently, we caught up with Isela Gracian, ELACC President, and Elba Schildcrout, Director of Community Wealth, to talk about the group’s work. Gracian and Schildcrout work with East L.A. residents to build affordable housing and advocate for fair housing as the foundation for the development of their community.

NCLR: How is ELACC, through its mission, “building a more equitable eastside”?

ELACC: The mission of ELACC is to advocate for economic and social justice in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles through building grassroots leadership, developing affordable housing and neighborhood assets, and providing access to economic development opportunities for low and moderate income families. We aim to preserve affordable housing in a city where there are more tenants than homeowners, and ensure that tenants’ rights and protections are in place. So, fair access to housing opportunities is extremely important.

NCLR: How does ELACC’s model for community development accomplish its mission?

ELACC: ELACC’s model for community development includes four pillars: housing development, assets and wealth building, tenant services, and community organizing. Our model addresses gentrification, tackles displacement, and ensures that planning and development are guided by community members.

One particular project, led by an ELACC working group made up of community members, “Derecho de la tierra” (Right to the land), is an example of how community members can engage in the development process and hold the developer accountable to the needs of the community. From earlier transit conversations with the Transportation Authority, the working group engaged in a participatory process with the community to create a concept for a proposal. As a result, the community members drafted a proposal to build two properties on vacant lots, and then sent it to the city of Los Angeles for development around transit centers. Once the Authority accepted the proposal, the working group continued to advocate for community engagement. ELACC’s members and organizers put together an outreach plan to door knock an area of a quarter-mile radius. Through a series of meetings, they revamped the proposal, so that it would preserve one building that would provide community services, with green space around it, and on the second plot, create multi-family affordable housing with commercial space on the first floor of the building. The next step for ELACC organizers and community members is to negotiate an agreement with the Transportation Authority to raise funds to build and develop the lots.

NCLR: April is Fair Housing Month. What does it mean for Latinos to have fair access to housing in Los Angeles?

ELACC: Fair access not only means access to decent housing, but takes into account the quality of the housing. If repairs are needed, the repairs are done on time. Landlords need to ensure that housing is structurally sound. The housing also needs to be affordable to the neighborhood’s residents. Fair access also means the residents have the opportunity to stay in their neighborhood, or be able to move to other neighborhoods if they choose to do so. Still, it’s not just the “where”, but also the quality and cost of housing.

The neighborhood where people live should have the retail and community services that they need to thrive: affordable healthy food outlets, health centers, parks, infrastructure, and connectivity between school, home, and parks. Retail services offered should have a cultural component, be bilingual, and offer products that are culturally relevant – that allow for the community’s continued connection to cuisine.

The city of Los Angeles has the highest rent levels for residents at the lowest income levels, so it’s important that community services include ways for the community to build and preserve wealth. Through ELACC, community members can access free tax preparation and financial coaching, and advocate with us to get rid of wealth-stripping car title lending and payday lending (some outlets charge more than 400% in interest) practices. Here in Los Angeles, ELACC partners with Self-Help Credit Union to help make their products more accessible to clients. Using technology, we can connect our community with citizenship, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and credit starter loans through a tablet provided by the credit union. We also offer an option to join a lending circle for community members who choose not to apply for the credit union products.

NCLR: The city and county of Los Angeles are conducting an assessment of fair housing. How are ELACC members getting the community involved?

ELACC: We have been part of city planning, and organizing residents around affordability measures for decades. Earlier this year, we organized community members and our working groups to attend the community meetings hosted by the City of Los Angeles. We’re now in the phase of taking surveys, gathering information on housing rights, the price of rents, and working with advocates to ensure that the L.A. Housing Department continues to engage with the community in the process.

Our neighborhood, and the city, continues to grapple with the displacement of residents. ELACC’s working groups that focused on land use and transit development have advocated for and participated in various campaigns to push for ballot measures and local bills that: preserve affordability of housing, raise funds for affordable housing development, and set strong land use policies that allow residents to engage in and drive development.

Los Angeles doesn’t need to look very far for ways to resolve and address fair housing concerns, and should take into account the existing landscape of policies communities have been working for.

This is the third in our April homeownership blog series for Fair Housing Month. Catch up on our other posts if you’ve missed any so far: Celebrating Financial Capability Efforts to Support Latino Financial Well-being, How One NCLR Affiliate is Helping Low-Income Latinos Build Wealth

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