Neither Slums nor Urban Jems
How it began
World War 11 marked the commencement of an explosive growth in Los Angeles' Negro population. In 1940 approximately 75,000 Negroes lived in the county; by the end of World War 11, this figure had doubled, as Negroes streamed in to man the assembly lines of Los Angeles' shipyards and aircraft plants. In the post-war years, the growth continued; presently, the county's Negro population stands at about 650,000, an almost tenfold increase since 1940.
Of the entire Negro Population in Los Angeles, 88.6 percent resides in areas considered segregated, concentrated for the most part in the 46.5 square miles of south central Los Angeles placed under curfew last August. The reasons for the concentration in south central Los Angeles are both legal and historical; they are closely tied to the origins of the small portion of the curfew area called Watts.
Once part of an old Mexican land grant named El Rancho Tajuata, the predecessor of the community of Watts was the small settlement of Tajuata. This settlement, which was founded in 1883 when the completion of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads launched a wave of land speculation in Los Angeles, lay on the right-of-way of the old Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad.
In the early 1900's, Henry E. Huntington began to construct the Pacific Electric Railroad, providing transportation throughout the Los Angeles basin. Two of the Pacific Electric's major lines - a north-south line running from the center of Los Angeles to Long Beach and an east-west line from Santa Ana to Venice - intersected close to Tajuata on land which had come into the possession of the Watts family. A railroad station was constructed at the intersection and named Watts; shortly thereafter, Tajuata's name was changed to Watts.
With the building of the railroad came the immigration of Mexican laborers, most of whom were employed by Pacific Electric. Since transportation was close at hand and land was cheap, many of the Mexicans settled in Watts, which had been incorporated as an independent city in 1907. About the same time, and probably for the same reasons, a small settlement of Negroes grew up in a portion of Watts called Mudtown,
The population surges and spreads
The First World War brought new immigrants into Los Angeles to fill the jobs opened by new industries. Some of these immigrants were Negroes from southern states, and they too settled in Watts. The Negro population in this area continued to grow during the 1920's and the 1930's, but until World War 11 the area was about evenly divided among Negroes, Mexican-Americans, and other Caucasians. The community remained poor; its incorporation into the City of Los Angeles in 1926 resulted in little change in its economy.
As Los Angeles' Negro population began to spiral upwards in World War 11, the new arrivals understandably gravitated to the areas already occupied by Negroes - Central Avenue and Watts. Accentuating the concentration here was the fact that deed restrictions and other forms of discriminatory practices made it extremely difficult, often impossible, for Negroes to purchase or rent homes in many sections of the city and county.
As a result, Watts soon filled up and Negro neighborhoods began to expand in adjacent areas to the north, south and west. As they did, Los Angeles saw Caucasians following the same pattern which other cities had witnessed: They moved out when the Negro population in any particular neighborhood increased to appreciable proportions. Thus over the course of a quarter century did the large majority of the Negro population in Los Angeles, as elsewhere, come to reside in segregated areas.
In recent years, a small number of local citizen groups west of the Harbor Freeway, notably Crenshaw Neighbors, Inc., have attempted to slow or arrest the exodus of Caucasians from neighborhoods which Negroes are entering. Entirely voluntary, their efforts are founded on increasing mutual communication, understanding, and respect between the races. We commend these groups; they act on the admirable principle that an individual should be judged without reference to race. Nonetheless, they face obvious problems, notably the concern of Caucasian parents that the neighborhood's schools will suffer. We believe that the educational program which we urge elsewhere in this report can, in the long run, materially assist such efforts.
In the early 1950's, construction began on the Harbor Freeway, extending from downtown Los Angeles south to the harbor communities. This freeway intersected the westernmost extremities of the areas into which Negroes were then expanding. Since housing and other conditions were superior west of the freeway, crossing the freeway to live on the west side became an ambition of many Negroes. Most of the Negro leaders who appeared before this Commission reside west of the freeway.
South Central Los Angeles: Living Conditions
What, then, are the living conditions of those who reside in the portion of south central Los Angeles which became part of the curfew area in August of this year? Compared with the conditions under which Negroes live in most other large cities of the United States, Los Angeles conditions are superior. This has been confirmed by witnesses before this Commission who noted, for example, that the majority of dwelling units in Watts are single-family structures and that the streets and lawns are well kept for a poverty area.
This is not to conclude that housing in south central Los Angeles is superb. On the contrary, residents of south central Los Angeles live in conditions inferior to the citywide average and, of course, markedly inferior to the newer sections in West Los Angeles. Structures are older and more of them are sub-standard. Population density is higher; in Watts, for example, there is an average of 4.3 persons per household, compared with an overall county average of 2.94 persons per household.
Much has been done in the past ten or fifteen years to improve the situation. For example, we have been informed that a survey of Watts by the city's Department of Building and Safety resulted in the removal of 2,104 dwelling units which were too dilapidated for occupancy. The Department of Building and Safety states that only three percent of dwelling units now existing in the curfew zone can be classified as dilapidated.
Nor has Los Angeles failed to provide the curfew area with an equal share of public facilities and services. Thirty-nine recreational facilities exist within the area - ten operated by Los Angeles County and the remainder, including nine swimming pools, operated by the city. We are informed that the construction and maintenance of streets in the curfew zone is roughly comparable with that of the total county, as is refuse collection and sanitation. Street lighting meets minimum standards, although it is not as good as in some other areas. City officials inform us that this disparity exists because the lighting may be increased at the request of property owners and merchants in an area, who must agree to be assessed for the extra costs.
A serious deterioration
Nevertheless, we have received extensive testimony expressing residents' dissatisfaction with the area's physical facilities. Of particular concern to us is the fact that a serious deterioration of the area is in progress. Houses are old and require constant maintenance if they are to remain habitable. Over two-thirds of them are owned by absentee landlords. In numerous instances neither landlords nor tenants appear willing to join in a cooperative effort to halt the deterioration. Many landlords are faced with problems of a high turnover in tenants who do not consider themselves responsible for assisting to maintain the property. Tenants resent the high proportion of their income which they must devote to rent for shelter which in many instances is more deteriorated than housing in the total county
Compounding the problem is the fact that both private financial institutions and the Federal Housing Authority consider the residential multiple unit in the curfew area an unattractive market because of difficult collection problems, high maintenance costs, and a generally depreciating area resulting from the age of surrounding structures. Moreover, unlike cities such as New Haven, Connecticut, private groups have not taken full advantage of the numerous federally supported programs designed to assist the construction of low-cost housing. At the same time, the development of public housing has been limited by the failure of voters to approve governmental development of low-cost housing, as required by the California Constitution.
In view of the deterioration of the area, the Commission urges the implementation of a continuing urban rehabilitation and renewal program for south central Los Angeles. We look with gratification upon the recent action of the City Council in approving an application by the city for federal assistance under the Community Analysis Program to develop and implement a Master Plan.
Nevertheless, all action cannot wait until the completion of the study and, to this end, private non-profit organizations such as churches and unions should be encouraged to sponsor low-cost housing under section 221 (d) (3) of the National Housing Act and similar statutes. The experience of other cities tentatively indicates the possibility that such projects can be integrated if coordinated with a program which rehabilitates the surrounding neighborhood and insures that good schools are available.
We also urge that the regulations of the Federal Housing Authority be revised so as to liberalize credit and area requirements for FHA-insured loans in disadvantaged areas. This would encourage residents to rehabilitate as well as to acquire property in the area. Similarly, we urge that the regulations applicable to savings and loan institutions be revised in order to offer an incentive to such institutions to participate in financing the purchase, development, and rehabilitation of blighted areas.
The Commission also urges that one county-wide "data bank" be created to centralize and standardize the information and statistics which numerous federal, state and local agencies collect concerning various areas of the county. At present no coordinating unit exists, and each agency collects information on geographic, time, and methodological considerations which have little relevance to the considerations employed by other agencies. The result is needless waste, duplication, and confusion, since it is often impossible to correlate one agency's figures with anotherís.
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Violence in the City: An End or a Beginning?
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