my article in today's LA Progressive
“We love the students,” says Monic Uriarte, a community health promoter with the nonprofit
Now on 36th Place, building after building stands in silent testimony: placards designating student housing where families once lived; schools renting out or closing classrooms because the children the classrooms were built for have had to move away; “for rent” signs that used to be bilingual or in Spanish now displaying contact information for Property Management Associates, a business that rents exclusively to students; the congregation dwindling at St. Mark’s Lutheran. For a while, churchgoers continued to return here to worship, Uriarte says, but family by family they’ve stopped coming back.
The issue needs to be addressed now, says Uriarte, as
USC used to tell students it wasn’t safe to live north of Adams, says Uriarte, but as she drove through the streets north of Adams and east of Figueroa, buildings in this area sported ubiquitous student housing signs and the area is so heavily populated now by students that the university runs a shuttle service to get them to and from the campus. Workmen are improving the buildings that suffered neglect for years while families lived there. “People have said to us, ‘Why didn’t you buy your own homes? Then they couldn’t displace you.’” This is why the community has to organize, says Uriarte, to be heard so people in power understand what it means to work minimum wage jobs, to struggle to support a family. “It’s easy to exploit people who are tenants instead of owners and who have difficulty expressing themselves in English.”
While her employer, nonprofit
According to Uriarte, speculators aren’t just driving out longtime residents but taking advantage of the students, too. “Where a family used to rent a house, or apartments used to be rented as one-bedroom or two-bedroom, now the property-owners rent by the bed.” She says students pay between $500 and up around $2,000 to share a bedroom with others, with the highest prices charged for housing within walking distance, and students must pay a whole year’s rent even though they aren’t in residence for 12 months.
The last statement is typical of Uriarte’s expansive view of health and why a “health promoter” is now working in the urban planning field. “This is something I never understood about the United States,” says Uriarte who was born in Sinaloa, Mexico. “As promotora in Mexico, you do everything. You teach literacy, you deliver babies, you give inoculations. In this country, we mutilate ourselves. You cut pieces off. You go to a home and say, ‘Oh, my grant only allows me to talk to you about asthma. If you have diabetes, you need a promotora with a diabetes education grant.’ Everything is kept separate, but I don’t see community health that way.”
She also sees a future when zoning will protect the neighborhood’s character, when “USC will say, If your family is displaced, we will give a scholarship to your children. We will help subsidize your housing.” Monic Uriarte sighs and smiles. “Yes, I am a dreamer.”