By Mark A. Matney, Jr.
For the fourth installment of the current series of transnational teach-ins hosted by NOlympics LA, the focus was on Los Angeles. As we hope the reader is aware, the IOC thinks they are bringing their cursed project to our City of Angels for what is nominally the “summer 2028” Games (in reality, the Olympic parasite arrives at its host city at least as soon as the bid decision is made, and remains long after the closing ceremony). That is, unless we have anything to say about it — and do we ever.
Nonetheless, we’re up against powerful forces with Swiss bank accounts full of dirty money, so we must organize. An essential part of that effort involves intersectional coalition building and education — hence this teach-in series — around the problems that the Olympics always make worse when they come to town, no matter where in the world that happens to be. The issues are numerous, interconnected, and have been written about at length elsewhere, but of particular relevance to Los Angeles at this point in time are issues around housing.
As in too many other places, gentrification, housing insecurity, and homelessness are widespread issues in Los Angeles. With wage stagnation, the rising costs of rent and of living, and continued investment of big real estate money in entertainment, tourism, and the “LA” lifestyle brand, long-term, low-income residents are displaced. Due to a lack of truly affordable housing stock, weak tenant protections, and complicit local politicians (several sitting city council members are themselves landlords) and cops (most of whom don’t even live in the same city they police), in real terms this means that people end up on the streets. Systemic racism means that people of color bear the brunt of this pain, and all of this is even further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
While this is happening all across LA County, the situation is particularly dire in the Black- and Latinx-majority city of Inglewood, in large part due to the two huge sports venue development projects currently underway. In early 2015, the city approved the plan to build the SoFi Stadium for LA’s two recently returned NFL teams. That plan is now being rushed to completion in order to offset delays. In late July, the environmental plan for a new NBA arena for the Clippers was approved. These two projects are directly contributing to drastic rent hikes.
But stadium-driven displacement in Los Angeles is nothing new, as we are reminded by members from Buried Under The Blue during the first part of the teach-in on July 18, 2020. The non-profit was founded by relatives of the people who were forcibly removed from their homes by police in 1959 to make room for Dodger Stadium. These relatives came together out of a need to rewrite the history of their family which they often saw misrepresented. For instance, the group asserts that the names of the communities that were destroyed — Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop — have been conflated with the name “Chavez Ravine” as a rebranding that deliberately attempts to erase that violent history of displacement. By studying the process of stadium-driven displacement, they have come to understand their families’ history as a single instance of a phenomenon that has repeated throughout history. Through outreach and education, Buried Under The Blue aims to increase civic engagement around these issues and build capacity to enact change.
Their presentation served as a preface, both symbolically and literally, for the next presentation by members of the Lennox-Inglewood Tenants Union (LITU). Now one of the most active groups in the struggle for tenants rights in Inglewood, LITU was founded by organizers who met each other through work with non-profits and the LA Tenants Union. Members shared that they felt politically misaligned with non-profits who, beholden to their donors, were unwilling to go far enough — in critiquing capitalism, for instance. LITU’s activities currently include casework, tenant support, building capacity for tenant organizing, and direct action.
LITU first gave a brief history of the city of Inglewood: a Great Migration destination for Black sharecroppers and GIs to lay down roots and escape the horrors of the Jim Crow south, leading to white flight and the creation of a middle-class Black enclave, followed by its systematic destruction in the 1980s with the “War On Drugs.” Then, they explained the pattern of abuse that landlords levy against tenants to pressure them to self-evict: disruptive repairs at all hours of the day, construction that produces lots of dust, reluctance to remove mold or fix leaky pipes, and generally being rude and antagonizing towards tenants.
Dolores, one of the most vocal Inglewood tenants in contact with LITU, joined us for the teach-in. She lives in an apartment on S. Prairie Avenue right across from the SoFi Stadium. The building used to be called Inglewood Gardens until her new landlord, who has owned the building for less than a year, re-branded it as Stadium View Apartments. She reports that he has been no exception to the rule of abusive and negligent landlords. He won’t fix broken doors or remove mold from the walls and carpet — instead, he just changes the knobs and paints over the mold. And when she calls him out on his bullshit? “Sue me!” He ignores and laughs at her, she says.
According to LITU, most tenants aren’t as outspoken as Dolores. The power dynamics of the landlord-tenant relationship tend to discourage them from speaking up, in fear of backlash in the form of rent hikes, evictions, or verbal abuse.
After Dolores shared her story, members of both groups fielded questions from the audience, driving a discussion mostly centered around identifying the challenges to building tenant power and fighting displacement, and how to overcome those challenges.
Both groups identify the lack of class consciousness as a primary barrier, which props up an illusory conflict of interest between homeowners and renters in communities like Inglewood. When neighborhoods gentrify, the property values of homes increase, and that consequence may make a homeowner feel less averse to gentrification. In Inglewood in particular, LITU members suggest there is a sense of entitlement among some homeowners to a “return on investment” for living through the crack epidemic. A common refrain that one member of LITU hears from homeowners when asked how they feel about long-time tenants being priced out of the area: “They should have bought a home.”
However, what’s lacking in that analysis is the value of community, they said. Gentrification changes the culture of a community — everything, from which businesses will thrive to which customs (block parties, loud music) are tolerated, becomes subject to change and re-litigation. Pretty soon, homeowners find themselves alienated in their own community. With this in mind, our presenters argue, homeowners can find a stake in the fight against gentrification.
On the flipside, a class consciousness among tenants must also be cultivated. LITU reports tenants who have lived in Inglewood their whole life who express feeling like they don’t have a right to the space they live in, just because they rent it. This materializes in various ways, from suppressing valid complaints for fear of retaliation, to not realizing that they can organize with other tenants to build collective power. They suggest that we must abandon disempowering notions of what it means to be a tenant, and with that, the norm of paying an ever-increasing amount of money to rent living space that is seldom improved, and the concept of housing as a commodity.
We discussed the myth of development as investment in the community — the deceptive lie that these stadiums are in any way made or meant for enjoyment by the current residents of the neighborhood. And while these projects are sold on the claim that they bring jobs to the area, the quiet part is that those jobs will be mostly part-time or temporary, and with the rent hikes that inevitably come, paychecks from those jobs won’t be enough to pay rent. Someone working those jobs will have to live and commute from somewhere else.
Buried Under The Blue acknowledged the challenge of relating to Dodgers fans in their outreach. Latinx people form one of the strongest bases of support for the team, and getting people to realize that sports can be a distraction from racial and economic injustice is a huge challenge. Luckily, LITU doesn’t see that as such an issue with the football teams, who lack a history in Inglewood.
There are also calls for non-profit organizations to be held accountable for all the ways in which they defang grassroots movements, including those for housing justice. Whether it’s advocating for bond measures like Measure H that end up squandered by elected officials, to diluting movements’ demands, some non-profits set up unassuming barriers to progress.
In spite of all of the obstacles, there are some recent victories to be hopeful about. LITU recently staged a rally outside of Dolores’ building which drew a crowd of around 70, much more people than some members had anticipated. Attendees reported that the action was well received by locals, with passersby joining in and horns honking in support. LITU also reports that their membership has since doubled from where it was before the action.
And while individual causes of stadium-driven displacement were named, there was a widespread acknowledgement that they are best understood as interconnected consequences of the economic system of capitalism. As long as housing is treated as an investment, a commodity to be bought and sold on the global market, these problems will persist. As the teach-in came to a close, a song written by NOlympics members played, with the refrain echoing the call to action to stop this violence once and for all – de-commodify!