Los Angeles urban swath to test Obama's 'promise zone' plan

Thu Mar 6, 2014 3:33pm EST
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Waiting for a bus in her heavily immigrant Los Angeles neighborhood, cleaning lady Yesenia Hernandez looked up at a new apartment block across the street that will boast such luxuries as a rooftop pool and dog park, with rents far beyond her reach.

"I want to move," said Hernandez, 38, standing in the shadow of another sleek residential building, the Wilshire Vermont Station. "The houses are being fixed but the rent is going higher. So people can't afford it."

This densely populated, multi-ethnic swath of Los Angeles is one of five areas across the country designated in January by President Barack Obama as a "promise zone", favored for investments to create jobs and alleviate poverty.

But gentrification already taking root there may prove a test for the plan, which taps existing federal funds for job training, affordable housing and public safety. Some urban planning experts warn that it may hike rents and displace the poor rather than create prosperous working class neighborhoods.

"You have to revitalize depressed parts of the city to help get rid of poverty but, on the other hand, getting rid of poverty has often meant getting rid of poor people, so it's important to make sure that doesn't happen," said Chris Tilly, director of the University of California, Los Angeles, institute for research on labor and employment.

In some ways, the Hernandez household represents the kind of low-income family that might benefit from Obama's initiative. An undocumented Mexican immigrant who came to the United States with her mother at the age of 10, she lives with her two children and now 61-year-old mother in a $1,000-a-month studio.

The plan could make her neighborhood safer and give her kids a better education. For now, as the pressure from high rents rises, she plans to relocate to a cheaper neighborhood that happens to be outside the zone's boundaries.

PROMISE ZONES   Continued...

People stand at an intersection in Koreatown, one of several neighborhoods designated by the Obama administration as a "Promise Zone" in Los Angeles, California January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn