By Carol Fondiller
Years ago, shortly after the earth cooled, I became interested in housing matters.
It was a matter of self-interest.
During the late ‘60s there was a real estate boom, and property owners in Venice, who derived profits from renting below-code substandard units at fairly low rents, saw the opportunity to make a killing.
The only obstacle standing in their way were the low-rent tenants and inhabitants that occupied their apartments and houses. I was one of the low rent parasites.
During the tumultuous Vietnam Watergate years, the owners of large portions of Ocean Front Walk and other members of the Venice Improvement Association began demonizing low-income people.
It didn’t matter if you were paying low rent and working just enough to support your surfing habit, your poetry habit, or you just didn’t have any ambition except to work just enough to pay the rent and get some duds from the used clothing (pre-collectible) stores that used to be in Ocean Park and Venice, and swim, you were the enemy of all things that made America great.
Every long-haired hippie, peacenik, pensioner, and women’s libber who sat on the now extinct benches on the Last Working Class Beach (as titled in the L.A. Times article) was a barrier to the gazillions of bucks that they could make on their “property.”
In collusion with the development happy ecologically ignorant City Council, who at that time met a piece of black top or office building it didn’t like, the various business and developer groups such as the Venice Improvement Association, the Chamber of Commerce, etc., sicced the cops on people who questioned, who fought back when they were told to make way for more “desirable” inhabitants, i.e., more affluent residents.
Meanwhile, the “undesirables” fought the speculators to a standstill, a huge victory considering that the only resource we had against the well-heeled developers, city officials, and elected representatives were numbers, cunning, tenacity, and a sense of desperation.
In the years that followed, many of the homeowners and owners of smaller pieces of property who sided with the owners of mega-properties were also “evicted” from their homes and businesses because of discriminatory code enforcement and taxes.
People became more aware of the value of the incomparable California coastline. The preservation of access to the beach for all Californians and the preservation of the delicate environment became even more important than – gasp! – “property” values.
In a great consciousness raising effort, it became a matter of interest to preserve and build low-income housing to ensure that access to the beach wouldn’t only be for the affluent. Thus the Coastal act was passed.
Although Venice was a refuge for artists of various media of various incomes, in the ‘70s Venice was discovered by the Afflu-Hips. These were the people who wanted a roll in the ol’ nostalgie de boue, but also wanted a hot tub and parking for their three cars plus those of their friends.
In other words, they wanted San Marino in Greenwich Village. To paraphrase Tom Wolfe, when the artists start moving in the millionaires follow.
The strategies that the eco-freaks and community activists used to stall stop or alter huge developments with little or no parking zip low-income housing began to be used against them.
Now when one attends a meeting for a proposed low-income housing project, someone is likely to speak out against it because the parking does not confirm to the coastal development requirements. Some of these people live in buildings whose owner/builders have bootlegged units through all the zoning requirements to the detriment of parking. They are P.O.’d because low-income housing projects are not required to have the same amount of parking as market-rate developments.
But some of the protestors simply do not like the thought of low-income residents living next to them. Perhaps they are afraid of catching the poor disease.
It’s too bad they don’t take the advice of Steve Clare, Executive Director of the Venice Community Housing Corporation, and look at complexes that the VCHC has put up.
VCHC doesn’t squander its money. They use most of it for acquiring property and land to build and preserve housing units. Their buildings do not intrude on the neighborhood.
They grace it. The VCHC takes the space and enhances the environment not only physically with murals and tiles, but also with work plans and art groups. They give back to the neighborhood.
Would that some of the for-profit developers take a cue from the relatively impecunious VCHC and instead of wasting their money on public relations, would put their money into developing buildings of unassuming grace and beauty that used technology to implement solar energy, wind power, etc., instead of building those not-for-artist, grey, concrete bunkers on Electric Avenue.
And the newcomers should be reminded that the low-income folks who they want to eliminate were here first.