Gentrification is a tricky concept: not easy to define, but people know it when they see it.
If you ask me, I wouldn’t say Palms is gentrifying. As of 2000, median incomes in Palms were similar to some other neighborhoods you might consider to be under gentrification pressures, like Leimert Park and Highland Park. However, Palms lacks what I’d consider one of the definitive markers of gentrification: a cycle of decades of public and private disinvestment followed by a boom. Palms has always been one of the Westside’s outlets for growth; apartment construction has been robust since the 1950s. In the last 15 years, the pace of development in Palms has slowed, simply because the neighborhood is running out of easily developable sites.
Still, a few recent anecdotal incidents got me thinking about neighborhood changes on the Westside, what that means in Palms, and how it relates to the city as a whole.
First, as part of its Micro Week series, Curbed LA ran a story about a small apartment in Palms, whose renter described the neighborhood as “rapidly gentrifying”. Second, a current resident had recently been looking for a new place in the neighborhood, and found the available apartments at about the same rent to offer a lower level of amenities. (If you live in a rent-stabilized apartment, it’s easy to lose all perception of the current state of the rental market.) Third, while walking down Motor Ave recently, a friend described disliking the new buildings there (Palms Point and M Lofts) for “all they represent”.
Well, what do the new buildings in Palms represent? They’re called luxury, but that’s a slippery term; property managers in Palms call their 1980s podium buildings luxury too. Certainly the M Lofts includes a level of amenities not found in older buildings, but the same could be said of new cars compared to old cars. Anyway, that’s partly a function of needing to secure higher market rents for the market-rate units, as some of the units are reserved affordable units.
A change in our environment is often hard. Perhaps new construction makes people feel like the neighborhood is shifting, away from a place that has the kind of amenities we like, towards a place that has the kind of amenities someone else likes. And it’s possible that the new amenities will appeal to people with more money, who will bid up rents.
This isn’t a plea for sympathy. These anecdotes refer to people who are not without means. People like me certainly don’t deserve any sort of housing subsidy, direct or indirect through regulatory policies.
The important thing to see is how all these housing markets are connected. New construction in wealthy areas of the Westside is prohibited by zoning, so new buildings are only put up in places like Palms. As demand to live on the Westside keeps growing, this development starts to skew towards the high end. Some residents of Palms will move to other neighborhoods, either to find the amenities they like or to keep housing costs down. That, in turn, will start putting upward pressure on rents in those neighborhoods.
We don’t call it gentrification until we get three or four moves down the chain, in places like Boyle Heights. If you want to live in Venice but can’t afford to do so, it’s unlikely you’ll go directly to Highland Park as the alternative. But the connections are real. The process starts with the lack of construction in wealthy areas on the Westside, and that’s where it needs to be attacked.