Neighborhood Watching

April 1, 2017
What are the unintended consequences of building the city of tomorrow?

Orinio Opinaldo had been watching his West Adams neighborhood change for years. Throughout the 1990s, the area had gradually filled in with apartment buildings and higher-end housing. Opinaldo saw neighbors kicked out of rental units or bought out of homes by developers looking to reposition their properties. The pace of change quickened with the 2012 phase-one opening of the Expo Line light rail train connecting downtown, USC and Culver City. More buildings were either built or renovated to accommodate an increasingly affluent population, putting longtime residents like Opinaldo, a 77-year-old retired teacher, under even more pressure to leave. Through what he says were unscrupulous tactics by certain banks, Opinaldo’s mortgage was reconfigured and his home eventually foreclosed upon. In November 2015, he was forced out of his home. “I’d lived in that house since 1950,” he says. “They just took it.”

As the real estate market in L.A. has continued to undergo rapid change, many people like Opinaldo are being nudged or even forced out of their homes. “There’s a steady stream of folks who are getting sometimes shady notices suggesting that they need to leave, or getting harassed by the landlords, harassed by the managers,” says Joe Donlin, associate director of SAJE, a South L.A. nonprofit focused on economic justice. And according to new UCLA research, much of this displacement is happening in neighborhoods surrounding the transit stations in L.A.’s growing public transportation network. Where transit grows, development and displacement seem to follow.

That often leaves people like Opinaldo defenseless against overwhelming market forces, exploitative landlords and developers looking to serve a new class of residents. “They don’t care about us,” he says. “All they care about is money.”

It’s becoming a familiar irony that the populations most reliant on public transit are often the ones pushed aside as it expands. The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, is in the midst of a massive transit building spree, thanks to two voter-approved multibillion-dollar funding mechanisms. New light rail and subway lines are spreading throughout the region. Neighborhoods along these new and emerging transit corridors are seeing shifts in their community makeup and neighborhood character — sometimes gradual, sometimes breakneck — that underline the interconnectedness of transit and urban development.

Some communities have experienced enhanced mobility and economic opportunities, while others have seen displacement amid changing market conditions and gentrification. Using data that track shifts in demographic, socioeconomic and housing conditions, researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have mapped how the expansion of transit in Los Angeles has often led to the displacement of its most vulnerable citizens. By exposing links between transit development and displacement, this research aims to guide new policies that can protect residents from the unintended consequences of transit expansion.

The maps show that most of those unintended consequences have centered on rail stations. Since the 1990 opening of L.A.’s first Metro rail route, the Blue Line, through the 2016 completion of its sixth, the Expo Line, some of the neighborhoods closest to the system’s rail stations have undergone dramatic transformations. “They saw what we call neighborhood upscaling, where there’s a decrease in low-income households and an increase in high-income households,” says Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate dean of the Luskin School. New transit often leads to new development, she says, which is often priced for more upscale households. In response, rents in the surrounding areas tend to rise, and existing residents get priced out. ...