While ignoring the richest and whitest parts of Los Angeles.
State Senator Scott Wiener and the YIMBYs have cleverly marketed SB 827 as a gutsy measure that challenges rich homeowners who use zoning to keep poor people of color out of their neighborhoods. The controversial bill overrides local restrictions on development near transit, allowing for taller and denser buildings in areas that for decades have segregated themselves by race and class — at least that’s what its supporters claim.
Just one recent example: David Roberts of Vox, in a fawning write-up of the bill, declares that “[SB 827] would unleash dense development in markets long dominated by powerful anti-housing activists (often called NIMBYs, for Not In My Backyard). It represents a housing revolution.”
The reality in Los Angeles could not be more different.
The maps below (made by Redfin ex-CTO Sasha Aickin) reveal SB 827 for what it really is: a lubricant for gentrification that places the burden of luxury development and its accompanying displacement squarely on communities of color filled with renters. The bill makes it easier and more profitable for investors to redevelop buildings in areas with cheap land that they believe will soon be attractive to wealthier yuppies.
Many of these neighborhoods are already dense, diverse, and near transit. The problem is that they’re filled with the wrong people: low-income Black, Latinx, and Asian people.
This law does not challenge rich white homeowners. On the contrary, the richest, whitest, and least dense areas of L.A. — places like the Pacific Palisades, Bel Air, and Palos Verdes — are systematically untouched. I’m not exaggerating here. Literally, the 10 richest neighborhoods (and more) in L.A. County are completely unaffected by the bill.
(Yes, Beverly Hills gets upzoned, but that’s not one of the richest areas, based on median income. And besides, that’s just a single neighborhood. I repeat: the 10 richest neighborhoods are completely untouched.)
Meanwhile, the “hottest” gentrifying neighborhoods that real estate investors can’t wait to get their hands on — places like Crenshaw, Koreatown, South L.A., and East L.A. — all get up-zoned. SB 827 assures investors that pesky residents and regulations in these areas will not get in the way of their profits. (It’s worth reiterating again that many of these neighborhoods are already pretty dense!)
These maps make even clearer why 37 progressive groups from L.A., in an open letter to the bill’s author, wrote that “SB 827 will exacerbate the very issue it seeks to remedy, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.”
A quick word about the recent amendments to the bill regarding demolition of units and right-to-return: these are undoubtedly a small step in the right direction (although it’s unclear how effective they’ll actually be in practice). But they fundamentally do not change the fact that SB 827 will facilitate massive indirect displacement as rents rise around new developments and property owners evict existing residents for richer, whiter ones. For example, a recent report published by Human Impact Partners estimated that The Reef development in South Central L.A., even though it’s being built on an empty parking lot, will put 4,445 renters within a half-mile at a high or very high risk of displacement. Gentrification isn’t just about physically destroying homes.
Rich neighborhoods go untouched
Let’s start with the rich, white, sparsely populated areas filled with homeowners that are are not at all impacted by SB 827. (All numbers below are from the L.A. Times’ “Mapping L.A.” Project)
See the maps immediately above and below.
This includes both West L.A. neighborhoods like the Pacific Palisades (median household income $168,008, 88% white), Brentwood ($112,927, 84% white), Bel Air ($207,938, 83% white), and Beverly Crest ($169,282, 87% white); and also areas south of the City of L.A. like Rolling Hills ($184,777, 76% white); Rolling Hills Estates ($145,628, 70% white); Palos Verdes Estates ($167,344, 75% white); Rancho Palos Verdes ($128,321, 63% white); and Manhattan Beach ($136,481, 86% white).
All these neighborhoods have population densities of fewer than 3,000 people per square mile (except for Manhattan Beach), and all are comprised of at least 80% homeowners (except for Manhattan Beach and Brentwood). For comparison, as I’ll detail below, South L.A. has 14,671 people per square mile and only 37% of households are homeowners.
There are a few wealthy white neighborhoods impacted by SB 827, notably Westwood and Beverly Hills. But speculative investors will prioritize redeveloping places where land is cheap now, but likely to become more expensive over the years. Put another way, they want to find the next Echo Park, where median rents rose from $2,000 to over $2,800 from 2011–2016.
Poor, Dense, POC Renter Neighborhoods are Targeted
The map at the very top of this article shows how Inglewood ($46,574, 46% Black and 46% Latinx), Crenshaw ($37,498, 71% Black and 17% Latinx), South L.A. (median income less than $40,000, 38% Black and 57% Latinx), and East L.A. (median income less than $40,000, 91% Latinx and 5% Asian) are all heavily affected by SB 827. All of these areas have population densities of over 10,000 people per square mile, and are made up of over 60% renters. Additionally, all are currently battling against real estate speculation, gentrification, and displacement.
Furthermore, the four densest neighborhoods in L.A., all centrally located and of course in the process of being gentrified, are also blanketed by SB 827 up-zoning. These neighborhoods are already pretty integrated, and represent exactly what the YIMBYs claim to want: dense populations (ranging from 25,352 to 42,611 people per square mile) living right along transit lines.
See the map immediately below.
These are: Koreatown ($30,558, 54% Latinx, 32% Asian, and 5% Black), Westlake ($26,757, 73% Latinx, 17% Asian, and 4% Black), East Hollywood ($29,927, 60% Latinx and 16% Asian), and Pico-Union ($26,424, 85% Latinx, 8% Asian, 3% Black).
SB 827 is not about building dense development for all in areas previously unavailable to poor people of color. Rather, it’s geared towards extending the frontiers of colonization and profit-making into areas that are not yet fully primed for investment.
Or, as the arch-conservative Manhattan Institute gleefully puts it: “Whether it passes or not, SB 827 shifts the window of acceptable discourse dramatically in favor of market-oriented reforms of housing policy. On that basis alone, Scott Wiener has positioned himself as a visionary reformer of California’s housing crisis.”
Hooray for the market.