"Why rent downtown when you could own in Boyle Heights?"
So asked a flier from Adaptive Realty, an L.A.-based company advertising a bike tour of the largely Latino, working-class neighborhood on May 31, to be followed by a discussion with "artisanal" treats. The flier listed off the benefits of buying in Boyle Heights:
- "Charming, historic, walkable and bikable neighborhood."
- "Put down as little as $40k with decent credit."
- "2 seconds from the Arts District"
The bike tour was put together as a way for about 10 prospective buyers to take a leisurely pass through the neighborhood. But Boyle Heights residents didn't see anything charming about it, and started to circulate the flier on social media:
Gentrification is not a foreign concept in Boyle Heights. Home flips have been a common sight, said Erick Huerta, a community activist who's lived in the neighborhood since he emigrated from Mexico as a kid. There is also the gentefication trend, in which younger, more affluent Latinos move back into their parents' neighborhood.
But the pace of gentrification seems to be picking up. The historic Sears Tower in Boyle Heights is being converted into office space and apartments. Soon, the neighborhood will be getting its first free-standing Starbucks.
Against this backdrop, Adaptive's flier came off as particularly tone-deaf, and wore on neighbors' already-thinning patience.
"They happened to be there at the wrong time, at the wrong place," Huerta said.
Huerta said that the general consensus is that no good can come out of gentrification. L.A., he said, is full of stories of neighborhoods being displaced to make room for projects desired by the powerful and rich.
Huerta said some Angelenos are particularly protective of Boyle Heights, because of its history of serving as home to communities ranging from Russian Jews to Japanese to Latinos.
"One of the best ways I can explain it is it's the Ellis Island of the West Coast," Huerta said.
Still, he said he was surprised and disappointed to hear from an Adaptive employee that she had been receiving physical threats for coming up with the flier.
Adaptive caught so much heat that by Tuesday night, company president Moses Kagan wrote a blog post, cancelling the bike tour.
He also apologized for how the flyer came off to people worried about losing their homes to gentrification after generations of living in Boyle Heights.
Compared to the people who are upset about the tour flyer, I have an unbelievably privileged life. And I spend most of my time speaking about real estate with people far richer than I, people who are about as far away from the struggle of existing on a day-to-day basis as a working person in LA as it is possible to be.
In an e-mail to KPCC, Kagan said that he has invited Boyle Heights residents to send him their "thoughts on gentrification." He's already received a few essays which he hopes to publish on his blog once given the permission.
He wrote: "I hope that, by giving residents a platform to speak directly to the real estate investors who read my blog, I can be helpful, in a small way, in enriching the discussion about gentrification."
According to Huerta, "Just the fact that they’re trying to do something and acknowledging it is a step in the right direction."
But Huerta maintains "more could be done." He'd like to see the real estate agents go to community events and speak to neighbors in-person. "It's such a personal issue."