The term “gentrification” refers to the redevelopment of urban neighborhoods or districts that often leads to changes in their physical, cultural, and demographic characteristics (Hwang and Lin 10). More specifically, gentrification involves members of higher-income groups, mostly young white professionals, buying and renovating properties in existing lower-income neighborhoods (Ballantine 505). This influx of higher-income groups is usually followed by an increase in rents and property values.
Gentrification often carries a negative connotation, as it entails the displacement of current lower-income residents by wealthier, higher-income groups. Eventually, the lower-income residents are pushed out because they can no longer afford to live in their neighborhood due to rising housing costs. Gentrification also leads to changes in a neighborhood’s appearance and surrounding culture; neighborhoods are often modified to appear more fashionable or aesthetically pleasing to cater to wealthier, higher class residents.
Recently, gentrification has become a central issue in the Historic Filipinotown community, as newer, more expensive apartments and upscale businesses have begun to settle in the neighborhood. Moreover, its proximity to the increasingly gentrified neighborhoods of Silver Lake and Echo Park have made it even more vulnerable to gentrification (Kitazawa). Current residents and numerous Filipino organizations have expressed their concern regarding the displacement of the predominantly working-class, immigrant population and the possible loss of cultural heritage.
Located in the Westlake district of Los Angeles, Historic Filipinotown (also known as HiFi) was named by the Los Angeles City Council in 2002 (Jurado). As its name indicates however, Historic Filipinotown is no longer primarily comprised of Filipinos. According to a 2012 survey, among an estimated population of 25,000 people, Filipinos only make up 25% of the population, while Latinos make up 60% of the population (Kitazawa). Although Filipinos have become a minority, HiFi remains an integral center for cultural events for Filipinos and Filipino-Americans throughout Los Angeles (Kitazawa).
In May 2017, the Department of City Planning introduced the North Westlake Design District Ordinance, which aims to regulate construction, building layouts, and parking rules, among other factors. Many residents fear that the ordinance will inevitably lead to unsustainable living costs for current residents and wipe out the many Filipino restaurants, businesses, organizations, and churches in the area (Jurado). Seeing that most residents are working class, low-income immigrants, they are less likely to have the means to afford skyrocketing rent fees, and are more susceptible to displacement (Jurado). The possibility of gentrification has also caused tension within the community: while many people feel threatened, others are more open to the potential for improvements in amenities and increased safety (Hwang and Lin 10).
Historic Filipinotown has only started to experience the early stages of gentrification in the past few years; therefore, research analyzing the full effect of gentrification on the HiFi community is rather limited. However, there are plenty of studies regarding the gradual nature of gentrification and its effects on existing neighborhoods and residents. Gentrification is rarely a rapid process; the re-development of urban neighborhoods requires the influx of wealthy buyers and the renovation of run-down properties (DeVerteuil 209).
Signs of gentrification are usually more subtle, manifesting in factors such as steadily increasing property values and taxes, the appearance of new types of restaurants and businesses, and the implementation of laws regarding loitering and public nuisances (Billingham 87). Most residents are at first oblivious to small physical changes – such as new storefronts or new homes – in their neighborhoods, especially in a city as diverse and progressive as Los Angeles (Schmidt 107). Gentrification also tends to occur in predictable stages; after wealthy buyers redevelop and renovate existing spaces, property values increase and housing costs rise (Rose 6).
Lower-income residents who are unable to keep up with these rising costs are gradually displaced and evicted to make room for newer, wealthier residents. The arrival of higher-income residents is often associated with an increase in the number of upper class commercial amenities in the area. The needs and preferences of these new residents usually clash with those of the current lower-income residents, ultimately resulting in complete displacement of the lower-income residents and the elimination of the neighborhood’s culture and physical appearance (Rose 6).