A conversation with Collective Space community activists

Collective Space is a non-profit organization crusading for tenant rights. MacArthur Park’s population usually rents, but with that comes issues with landlords and management companies who aren’t providing adequate housing to the public. (To learn more on this subject, read “Finding a home in MacArthur Park.”) Last year Collective Space reviewed 1,200 cases, and helped numerous families resolve issues with their landlords.

The organization is championed by three activists: Daniel Morales, Winston Leva and Brian __. Here’s a brief introduction to their opinions of the neighborhood they work in.

Daniel Morales, Director of Collective Space

 

Daniel (mp3)

 

Winston Leva, Administrative Assistant

 

 

Winston (mp3)

 

 

Brian was not available for a photo.

 

 

Brian (mp3)

Q&A

How as the community changed in the last 10 years?

Brian: Me being Caucasian, just my ability to walk from the parking lot to here in the office in order to work, 10 years ago with the gang situation and the violence in the community, that could’ve been a lot scarier than it is right now. Right now I’m comfortable walking around.

Daniel: The government pays more attention to this community now. But the landlords continue to not follow the laws. We have overpopulation in this area. We have over 47,000 people per square mile. And we have gentrification in this area. So it’s a battle between the city that wants to build in this area and the families that already live here.

I hear the word “gentrification” a lot when people describe how MacArthur Park is changing. Can you give specific examples?

Brian: A lot of what’s going on with the newer development buildings is they are trying to build a percentage of low-income apartments for people in the area. But the numbers they’re using to establish the guidelines are based on county levels, not community levels. The median income here is under $20,000, and many people here make less than $9,000 per year. And the number they’re using based on the county is more like $45,000. So even the low-income units that are being included in these newer developments, most are way out of the price range of the people that live and work in the community.

What would be a fair price? Or rather a price that families can afford here?

Daniel: Affordable for people that live here? More like $100 for two bedrooms.

Brian: Yeah. That’s about right. Anything over $1,000 gets difficult. And that’s why you see many families living in a one-bedroom apartment.

What are community organizations doing to stop this newer development?

Daniel: They’re not doing anything. Where were they when they put in the biggest store in community Ross? Did they think how that would affect small businesses in the area?

Brian: When there are developments they do bring members into the community to give in put.

Winston: But the people that live here based on their economic situation don’t have time to attend a meeting when they’re working.

If a family can’t afford the rent in this area, where are they going?

Daniel: This is the cheapest area to live in Los Angeles so a family either goes back to their home country or move into an apartment with another family.

How is this housing problem affecting children?

Daniel: Kids, they don’t have their own space here. They don’t have a place that they can sit down and do their homework. They can’t pick up the remote control and watch TV. It’s impossible here because you have 10 or more people in the home with their own problems so your choice is to go outside and join the gangs because you have nothing at home.

Winston: The bigger problem with space is even when they go outside they can’t use the space- like green space. While we have parks, the policy is not tailored to the demographics here. Soccer is our religion for Hispanics.

Daniel: A good example is right down the street at the middle school. We have zero access to that space over there because that space is being used by AYSO. The sad thing is that they bring [people] from outside our community. You can’t go on Saturday or Sunday. Nice cars by the way from Land Rover to Rolls Royce. Every week we have 250 kids that can’t play because we don’t have the space.

NOTE: Collective Space and Daniel Morales hosts a youth soccer league with more than 114 teams and about 20 kids on each team.

 

What about Parks and Rec or contacting the city?

Brian: We’ve had conversations with Parks and Rec but they see it differently in that they want to open the space to as many people as possible because they don’t like large groups trying to monopolize a large percentage of the time there. They’re not looking at it from a usage sort of thing they’re looking at it from what organization is using it. And in MacArthur Park you have the artificial park but there’s open space that people are using to kick around soccer balls and certain groups want to keep the space a “passive park”. So the idea is they’re going to bring these big 3 to 4 foot boulders and stick them in these open spaces in the park so it makes it impossible for these kids to play soccer.

What else does the community desperately need?

Brian: We need banks, because we have a lot of check cashing places that charge up to 15 percent.

But don’t you need a social security card to obtain an account?

Brian: I know of at least 3 places that don’t require that type of paperwork or a social security number.

Winston: We need financial literacy too. Because people just don’t know that information that you can open a checking account. And they don’t know what a savings account is and why they should have one.

With all this new development, and hoping for institutions like banks to come in and help the community, do you see a Starbucks on the corner of 7th and Alvarado in 10 years?

Daniel: Ironically, MacArthur Park is a good place to invest because a lot of people live here. But it’s a bad place to live. But I don’t. I think the youth, these kids that are coming out of high school, are going to be the next leaders. They’re going to be the ones to defend this community and make it better for future generations.

 

Relevant Links:

Collective Space Website

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