A new documentary criticizing gentrification brought loud cheering from a full audience at Long Beach’s 4th Street Art Theatre Wednesday night. The theatre hosted a screening of “City Rising,” produced by non-commercial educational and independent television station KCET. The film focused on the issue of displacement in six California communities: Boyle Heights, South Central Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Oakland and the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento.
The documentary reveals the issues that arise when cities push for development. This development, known in the documentary as gentrification, promises growth and regeneration of low-income communities. But as the film explains, gentrification often drives up home values and displaces those who are not able to afford it after renovations are made or are priced out of their residency. According to the film, this makes it nearly impossible for certain members of these communities to ever have a chance at home ownership. The film shows communities changing, culture diminishing, and homelessness increasing within “developing” neighborhoods and cities.
Despite the struggles that low-income residents face with the rising costs of rent, it’s no secret that Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia has opposed rent control — a regulation which advocates have collected signatures in hopes of land a spot on the November ballot.
The film was followed by a discussion panel led by community leaders around Long Beach, including Eva Ramirez from Long Beach Residents Empowered, Brenda Caloca from Latinos in Action California, Susanne Browne from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and documentary director Rita Baghdadi.
Browne explained the zoning plan for downtown Long Beach that was passed in 2012. The plan proposed massive amounts of renovation and development to increase the value of the area. “It’s basically a huge gentrification plan,” Browne said. “The plan promised development, but it didn’t include a single unit of affordable housing.”
The film inspired conversation about the effects of gentrification on low-income neighborhoods. 1/24
Jorge Rivera is a community organizer and the program director at Libre, one of the organizations that contributed to the making of the film. He explained how the community came out fighting against the gentrification plan and demanded a community benefits package.
“Ground zero is downtown Long Beach,” Rivera said. “If the plan was going to move forward we wanted to make sure there was some sort of affordable housing. They moved on anyways and property values went up and people became displaced.”
According to Rivera, Libre has seen an increase in calls from people who have problems with renting in the area.
“The process has already begun,” Rivera said. “It’s sort of like stopping a moving train — and I don’t know if you even can stop it.”
Rivera said he encourages people to get informed of their renters rights and volunteer their time.
“It’s going to take a movement of renters to put a halt to it and until we have enough power we won’t see any change,” Rivera said. “We know it’s a hard task, but unless we come together it’s gonna be hard to stop.”
Beto Rodriguez, a member of the organization Housing Long Beach and a Cal State Long Beach graduate, did a routine walkthrough in a Long Beach neighborhood that morning. On his cellphone, he had hundreds of pictures of broken thermostats, water-damaged ceilings and improperly covered windows on homes being painted on the outside.
“The homes I saw today received a $500 rent increase and the people living there were given a 60 day notice,” Rodriguez said. “Now, the people not part of the organization were left to go to court; but the people that were part of the organization, they can form a rent strike against the landlords.”
Rodriguez encouraged anyone renting in the community to join the organization so they can fight together rather than stand alone.
According to Rivera, college students are specifically affected by gentrification. Student homelessness is a problem at CSULB and universities around the country. He elaborated that younger community members and students should speak and let their voices be heard since they will be the ones who will deal with these issues in the future and they have the power to change the community.