Driving through communities like Chinatown and Little Tokyo, Forescee Hogan-Rowles used to wonder why it wasn’t happening in South Los Angeles. She also asked why they weren’t doing anything to make it happen.
Then she started to think outside the box and decided that she and her organization, Rise Financial Pathways, formerly Community Financial Resources Center (CFRC), could become the they that makes it happen.
On Oct. 17, Hogan-Rowles, and Rise took the first step to make it—substantive and sustained economic development—happen in South Los Angeles by releasing the first in a two-part economic forecast for the area.
“I think deciding to highlight (in this economic forecast) what the issues are and what has been done is part of (generating) economic development. One of the things is the image challenge we suffer within South L.A.,” said Hogan-Rowles, Rise president and CEO who said she grew up not far from the nonprofit’s office, which is located at Figueroa Street and King Boulevard, within the shadow of the L.A. Coliseum and mere blocks away from economic juggernaut USC.
“We need to look at it more seriously; we need to take ourselves more seriously,” pointed out Hogan-Rowles who said she was frustrated by the lack of serious and consistent investment in South L.A. over the last three decades when compared to other nearby communities.
“We are in the middle of things. We are minutes away from LAX; on the way to the ports, you have to go through South L.A. We’re surrounded by three major arteries—the 105, 110 and 10 freeways. What is the problem,” asks Hogan-Rowles, the frustration obvious in her question.
But rather than guess the situation, the Rise CEO is looking at the numbers and the data.
Hogan-Rowles writes in the SoLA executive summary: “The purpose of this two-part study is to examine the progress of the past decade as well as set a course to work collaboratively with public and private sectors, community leaders, residents and community agencies in moving South Los Angeles forward. With unemployment still double the national average, the need for economic opportunities and community wealth generating mechanisms are greatly needed.”
Among the surprising findings in the SoLA report said Hogan-Rowles is that in 1992, there were 19 banks serving the 570,000 people living in the 40-square-mile area called South Los Angeles, and today there are 591,000 people being served by 19 banks.
This compares to the average in more affluent communities of one bank for every 40,000 to 50,000 people.
“Without banks, you have seen a proliferation of check cashing businesses . . . and what this does is eat into the people’s disposable income,” says Hogan-Rowles, noting that the average family spends $750 a year on costs and fees at a check casher compared to $120 to $200 at a bank.
The Rise CEO says this diminishes each family’s buying power, and means they don’t have an established relationship with a bank to facilitate easier home buying or business development. The lack of disposable income also impacts how potential investors might view the community in terms locating a business there.
The excess number of fast food eateries also means consumers in the community have less money to spend in other ways, because this food tends to be more expensive. Hogan-Rowles said this too, makes investors more hesitant. “They may say why should I put my nice restaurant there, when they put all their money in fast food.”
Consequently, those South Los Angeles residents who are able to go to other communities to eat in restaurants, and take their buying power with them.
In addition, the SoLA report found that a large percentage of the businesses lost to the 1992 civil unrest did not rebuild nor were they replaced. This has contributed to the dire unemployment situation in the community.
Hogan-Rowles said the report laid out seven or eight recommendations including looking at the city’s homebased business and street vendor policies to make sure they are as user friendly as possible.
The second part of the study to be released in spring 2014 will look at community resources, upcoming economic development and potential projects or programs to be developed or enhanced to further address both poverty and unemployment.
Ideally, Hogan-Rowles said that she wants to bring Rise’s banking and insurance industry partners together with other major corporations, political leaders, nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders to develop a consensus plan that will bring public-private investment into South L.A.
And while the plan sounds simple, Hogan-Rowles is well aware that what she wants to do will take a long battle. “But I expect victory.”