Los Angeles, CA — In 2008, the Mayor’s Office issued a five-year strategic plan to revitalize South Los Angeles. From housing to education, L.A. is getting a face-lift.

The plan proposes that hundreds of jobs will be created, the physical appearance of South L.A. will be improved, and the quality of life in neighborhoods will be better. So far, the plan is on track as new housing units are in the works and shopping center renovations are being done. But the current financial status of the nation has stagnated some initiative plans.

Housing, Neighborhood Living, and Education
In the 2008 publication of the strategic plan, the L.A. Housing Department’s (LAHD) goal was to provide loans to assist moderate homebuyers to purchase homes in the Santa Ana Pines residential area. The funds are there, but there are no buyers.

Carolyn Hull, Regional Administrator for the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), South L.A. Regional Office, says, “The economy has definitely affected the property in this process. The ‘for sale’ market is really weak and it is much more difficult for developers to get financing.”

She also says that the market will eventually turn up and the provisions will be in place for the future. “You never build for the market today. You build for when the market upturns. We have a long term view on development.”

The Handyworker Program provides $5,000 grants to low-income senior and disabled homeowners to make minor repairs to their homes. Since the plan’s inception, LAHD has exceeded the original goal of 350 grants provided and has dispersed over 800 grants since 2008.
Though the recession has not affected funding for the housing initiative, housing authorities say future changes are conceivable but unlikely.

Vacant lots and eyesores are also being transformed into affordable housing for low-income seniors and moderate-income renters. The Morgan Place Senior Housing was built on a 25 year previously vacant lot and tenants have started to move in.

Other lots are still in transition as the city awaits financial and property negotiations. Hull says, “The Marlton Square project,” for example, “is sitting docile since it went through an involuntary bankruptcy.”

The Marlton Square project is proposed to be a mixed-use plot of land for 150 single family home and retail space. In the meanwhile, CRA/LA is acquiring potential retail properties for future development.

Other land plots that are also on delay include the vacant lot at 3011 Western Blvd., currently occupied by the shuttered Fatburger restaurant. Potentially, this land will be used for 66 moderate-income condominium units.

Near the Baldwin Hills area, Hull says, “We are looking at ‘for sale’ housing. Our role there is to encompass the architecture and artistic elements that are in the Baldwin Hills project areas.”
Within the next few years, CRA proposes that there will be 1,000 residential units in the Baldwin Hills/ Crenshaw area.

She also explains that the CRA is anticipating a launch of a single-family housing rehab project for South L.A. qualified homeowners and their neighborhoods. The program will assist families to make cosmetic upgrades to their homes to “help beautify the community,” Hull says.

Homeowners will select from either a list of pre-approved contractors to replace window, fences and repaint their homes. “We try to focus on one block at a time,” Hull says.

Education plans include enrolling more than 1700 students into two-year career based training programs for high school juniors and seniors. The programs will be preparing students to enter careers in various trades and engineering.

Other completed projects include the Watts Learning Center. A two-story 9 classroom building was added to the K-5 charter elementary school’s northern portion of the site and a two story 7 classroom building to the eastern side. A media center and administrative building was also added.

Retail, Business, and Jobs
The business development program initiative was originally developed to, “improve livability and quality of life in the area through economic growth that creates high quality jobs, generates wealth and investments and helps to ensure SLA’s long-term fiscal health,” (2008 Strategic Plan for South L.A.).

As part of the business development initiative, local businesses are being commissioned to conduct “face lifts.” The Facade Improvement Program proposes that 100 commercial facades will be completed by 2012 and that it will improve the life of South L.A. residents while providing more jobs.

In the five-year plan, several small business assistance programs have been instituted. The Los Angeles Business Assistance Program is designed to assist small business owners with classroom training in business basics, and loan packaging to entrepreneurs and businesses with fewer than five employees.

“One of the critical elements is to work with our existing business owners. This is geared toward working with the mom and pop shops to beautify our neighborhood,” Hull says.

Despite the economic downturn, the city is determined to improve and expand retail opportunities as well. Starting with the Crenshaw Plaza, hopes remain high to expand the shopping center with a new Debbie Allen Dance Academy and other commercial and residential opportunities. The city expects the expansion to bring in more job opportunities and a new art policy.

In the Watts Corridor of the city, a non-profit will break ground as the city’s only source of entertainment. The Wattstar Theatre will be a grand state of the art film and educational hub.
The facility will not only show films, but also act as a job training resource center for high school and college students aspiring to be part of the film industry. As a non-profit, the facility will not only serve as a community development pillar, but also as an entertainment venue for the residents of Watts. It will be the first theatre in the neighborhood in 42 years. An estimated 30 jobs will also be created at the Wattstar.

Another challenge L.A. is facing is an unemployment rate of 12.2% and low wages. The city plans to make career education and job training more accessible to South L.A. residents. So far hundreds of jobs have been created with the development and construction of new buildings, living spaces, and shopping plazas.

“The CRA is committed to creating jobs that provide a ladder of growth to give people living wage jobs,” Hull says. The CRA has adapted a construction careers policy called the First Source Hiring Ordinance in 2008 with the goal of creating jobs for local residents. Through this policy, contractors working with the city are required to hire local workers, giving community residents first pick on construction jobs.

So far, (many) construction jobs have been created and more are guaranteed to be available as new construction projects spring up.

Hull explains that revitalizing South L.A. is part of embracing the culture and business of the community, while improving the lives of Los Angeles residents.

To stay updated on the initiative to rebuild South Los Angeles, log onto www.crala.org.