Warm-Up Exercise: Global Slums
1) What is the definition of slums adopted in this report?
The authors contend that in Los Angeles, slum can describe whole neighborhoods or a single building. A slum neighborhood or building typically share three core characteristics: deteriorated physical housing conditions, low levels of resident income and low levels of private investment and property maintenance. The focus of their report is “disinvested neighborhoods” which are identified by the intersection of two statistics: tax delinquency rates of more than 6 percent, and 30 percent or more of households make less than US$25,000 annually.
2) What are the conditions under which “slums” have developed in the studied city?
The authors attribute the initial development of slums in Los Angeles to the increased strategic defense importance of the Port of Los Angeles in the 1890’s. Increased economic activity in the area caused longshoreman and other workers to congregate and establish dense, low-income housing in a slum area known to this day as Skid Row. Economic fluctuations, land reclamation for water and infrastructure projects, and consistently high immigration are all contributing factors to the existence of slums in Los Angeles today.
3) What is the relative position of these “slums” to the investigated city?
As of 2003, disinvested neighborhoods made up 20% of the area of Los Angeles and housed 43% of the cities population- 1,582,153 people. Disinvested neighborhoods can be found in the center of the city in the form of high-density housing such as overcrowded apartment buildings and include areas such as Little Tokyo and parts of Hollywood. Low-density areas are often composed of informal housing units such as converted garages and tend to exist on the southern and eastern periphery of the city.
4) Who lives in the “slums” of the investigated city?
According to statistics cited by the authors, Latinos, especially immigrants, make up a large percentage of the population living in slums in Los Angeles- nearly 65% of the slum population. African American’s make up 17%, while Whites and Asians each make up 8% of slum residents. Nearly 80% of those who live in slums rent their homes. Two-thirds of the households in slums are composed of families, with 40% being married families. Half of the households in slums make less than US$25,000, and 80% have incomes less than US$50,000 annually.
5) What types of policies have been deployed towards these slums by the national government?
According to the authors, federal, state and local housing and community development programs have pursued several strategies to deal with slums in Los Angeles. The federal government dictates that 70% of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds must be used to benefit low and moderate-income persons. The State of California has designated local Redevelopment Agencies with the task of identifying slum areas that could be beneficial to the state if recaptured under eminent domain. As a questionable trade-off, at least 20% of the captured funds from the land must be reinvested in affordable housing projects.
The federal government has also worked with state and local governments to establish Empowerment Zones/Enterprise Communities that utilize a combination of economic incentives such as targeted tax benefits, low interested loans and grants to encourage the rehabilitation of slums. However, the most notable product of these programs- the Los Angeles Community Development Bank- is considered a failure, according to a secondary source cited by the authors.