Black homeowners in southern LA fight gentrification

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Pam Lumpkin knew it was time to leave Brentwood.

For more than a decade, she and her husband, Emmanuel, have lived in the predominantly white and mostly wealthy enclave of Westside. They made friends there, made careers and raised children there. But their priorities changed soon after the arrival of girl # 3.

“It was so hard to find a school with more than a few African American families,” Lumpkin told me. “I needed her to see that there are a lot of families like us. I needed her to grow up where I did.

So when an aunt died, leaving Lumpkin with a stately but dated house in the historically black neighborhood of View Park, “we ran” in southern LA, “which people couldn’t believe.”

Granted, that was in 2011, when many neighborhoods south of Highway 10 weren’t seen as particularly desirable by the larger, whiter public of home buyers.

A decade later, everything has changed.

Homes in Crenshaw, West Adams, Hyde Park, Leimert Park and, of course, Baldwin Village and View Park, now regularly sell for north of $ 1 million. Bidding wars between white families are common.

For longtime homeowners, many of whom are elderly and black, the temptation to sell to a private or developer is at an all-time high. Equally high are the economic barriers for young black families looking to buy for the first time in a southern LA neighborhood.

A newly remodeled home in the View Park community is seen in October.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Ask many locals and they’ll call what’s going on a crisis of uncontrolled gentrification and displacement. They curse opportunistic developers in one fell swoop, and in the next, will denounce a new state law that allows apartments and condos to be built on land that was previously reserved for only one house.

But not Lumpkin.

She is part of a small but growing group of Black Angelenos who, while torn apart, prefer to see what is happening in South LA as an opportunity.

One that, if grasped by enough blacks, could lead to an unprecedented transfer of generational wealth and, by extension, slow the pace of gentrification. Or, if wasted, could put neighborhoods that have long been central to black life in Southern California at additional risk of cultural erasure.

No pressure or anything.

“The opportunities are there for us,” Lumpkin assured me. “We just have to educate ourselves. “

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I’m still a little skeptical of anyone who relies too much on the ‘there is an opportunity in a crisis’ platitude. Probably because so many politicians have conveniently peddled it during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps unfair, but that was my first thought for Lumpkin. She’s a real estate agent who has developed a niche market in South LA, selling homes to an exclusive black professional clientele, and renovating and renting homes for others. This period of crisis presented many opportunities for her, if not always for everyone.

But still, our conversation got me thinking – and reading.

A recent Insight Center report analyzed new numbers on the country’s decades-old racial wealth gap. Among the results: The typical black household is only worth $ 24,100, compared to $ 188,200 for the typical white household. It’s about 12 cents for every dollar.

Most – but certainly not all – of the blame for this is related to equally long-standing disparities in homeownership, as this is how most Americans create generational wealth.

In 2019, only 41% of black families in California owned their homes, compared to 68% of white families. In fact, for the entire decade starting in 2010, the share of black Californians who owned was lower than it was in the 1960s, when it was legal to discriminate against prospective black homebuyers.

LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell lamented the latest statistic last month, as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill returning a strip of prime real estate known as Bruce’s Beach to descendants of its rightful black owners.

“Some of you may be wondering why this action is relevant today,” she said at a press conference. “We are in a county of 10 million people, and 5 million of our residents are what we call cash poor.”

Houses located on hills

Homes in the hills of the View Park community are seen this month.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

For a long time, however, black residents of South LA were the exception, as many owned their homes. This did not happen by accident; this happened because black people were limited to living in certain neighborhoods by restrictive covenants and restrictive covenants.

Yet even after these racist policies were banned, house prices in South Los Angeles remained suppressed until the end of the 20th century. It’s only because of the California housing shortage that prices are going up now.

Now all of a sudden black people who grew up in poverty or working class and managed to buy a modest house in the ’60s and’ 70s – and in some cases are paying it off – find they own a home. extremely valuable property.

In many cases, this is a first for their family, the prospect of passing on real wealth to the next generation. After all, it’s one thing to inherit a house worth $ 350,000 that requires $ 100,000 of work. It’s another to inherit the same house, but it’s now valued at $ 1 million. There are only a few cities in the country where this is even possible for blacks.

I have spoken to several current and former Angelenos who have found themselves in this situation. Among them, Maurice Mouton, who lives in a house in Leimert Park in the midst of gentrification that his parents bequeathed to him and his brothers and sisters in 2009.

Until recently, he believed that most of the money he left to his sons would come from life insurance. He didn’t think he would ever own a house that was worth that much. “Never,” he told me repeatedly, almost in a whisper.

But now Mouton has said he has new concerns because one son is “a very good fund manager” and the other is not. It has become a frequent topic of conversation with his wife, Lydia.

“I grew up with a solid foundation, you know, but no wealth,” said Mouton, 74, recounting a long career with Southern California Gas Co. “So now it’s like, well, that are we doing? “

Numerous studies, including one this month from the National Urban League, have shown that a disproportionate number of black Americans lack financial literacy skills, especially when it comes to understanding risk and investing.

This is one of the reasons Lindsay Barbee, a Yale graduate with leadership experience at WeWork, was recruited by her family to help run her grandmother’s house in Baldwin Village.

Set on a quiet, hilly, tree-lined street with stunning views of the SoFi stadium, the house is full of family photos that always line the hallways and a plush mustard green carpet that always covers the floors. Barbee is planning a complete renovation, even taking advantage of this new state law to add a secondary housing unit in the backyard. Then she will praise him.

But sifting through her grandmother’s finances to find and pay all the bills on time was more difficult than expected. Everything is on paper. Others with less experience and a more immediate need for money might have given up and turned to a pinball machine or developer, the true architects of gentrification.

Barbee told me about elderly neighbors who own their homes but have no children to bequeath a legacy. Or who have children who have entered and left prison, or who have struggled with drug addiction or who have lost their lives due to COVID-19.

Houses located on hills

Home values ​​in historically black neighborhoods like View Park are increasing.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

This brings me back to Lumpkin and his talk about seizing opportunities in South LA. She says to those listening, “Don’t sell your house if you are black and come from this neighborhood. Don’t sell your damn house!

She’s right, of course. Nipsey Hussle was too when he tried to redeem the hood and told everyone to do the same.

But the sad fact is that for many it will be impossible. Black Americans continue to earn less in the workplace than white Americans, regardless of their level of education, and remain disproportionately prone to generational poverty.

“Not many people have the capital to invest like my cousin and I did,” admitted Brian Johnson, who, along with a cousin, Ashley Glossen, recently inherited a house in View Park from an uncle.

Even though neither Glossen nor Johnson live in California, they chose to keep the house rather than sell it to “strangers” because it was “important to our family’s legacy,” he said. It was first purchased by their grandfather in the 1940s.

But the sprawling ranch was run down, so turning it into a rental meant spending a “good amount” of their own money to fix it.

“I hope people, especially black people, understand the importance of keeping a property, renovating it and understanding that its value will just go up,” Johnson said. But, he added, “most black people are in a situation where their finances are not good.”

Cheryl Danner, who, along with her sister, rents their elderly mother’s house in Baldwin Village, had similar hopes and fears.

“They want what they consider their heritage and they want it right now,” she told me. “They have three or four children and they want to share it because they want to do different things. Hope they keep it, but people feel [investment properties] it’s too much work.

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Despite all of this, Lumpkin is optimistic about the future of southern LA.

“I think people are going to keep their homes and I think black people are going to keep buying, and I think the enclave that was here when I was growing up is going to come back.”

And it is almost certain that home prices will continue to rise.

“I don’t think my aunt ever thought her house was worth more than $ 300,000 because our values ​​were so crushed here. Values ​​never climbed the way they did in Cheviot Hills or Hollywood Hills. “

Lumpkin paused, reflecting on the house next door which recently sold for over a million dollars.

“She should have been able to enjoy the fruits of her labor.”


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