Introducing There Goes the Neighborhood

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September 21, 2017

The beige stucco apartment building at 240 Robinson Street has nice a Spanish arch to the front windows and a red tile roof. It looks like a lot of other buildings in this part of town. The small, rent-controlled apartment building is in Rampart Village. The area is best known for Tommy’s Burgers and a police corruption scandal in the 1990s.

If you want to see what LA used to look like, this apartment building would give you a pretty good idea. Tenants, who have lived in this building for decades, pay less than $1,000 a month in rent.

The Robinson St. building. Photo: Larry Hirshowitz (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

They’re also facing eviction. The landlord is trying hard to get them out and they are fighting back.

The building’s new owner, David Bramante, bought the building for $1.2 million. His financial mandate is clear. He needs to double or triple its value to recoup his investment, and pay back the loan he took out to buy the building. Tenants who pay 1980s-era rents are not going to cut it.

Inside Robinson Street. Top left: María and Luis López with their dog Roxy. TR: View of Downtown L.A. from the roof of the Robinson building. BR: Alicia Enríquez. BL: Uver Santa Cruz Photos: Larry Hirshowitz

What made Bramante think his investment was worth it? The answer is right down the street in a brand-new building called HOM.

Inside HOM, Eric Mathison and his roommate are among a group of new renters who pay about $3,300 for a two-bedroom apartment. The building has a fitness studio and a probiotic juice bar downstairs. When he rented it, Mathison didn’t know he was moving to a down-market neighborhood called Rampart. The leasing agent called it “South Silver Lake,” to take advantage of a nearby trendy enclave, and that sounded good to him.

Inside HOM with tenant Eric Mathison. Photos: Larry Hirshowitz

The conflict on Robinson Street will likely end up in an overcrowded eviction court like thousands of other cases in LA. “Rents are through the ceiling. Rent-controlled tenants are substantially below market,” says Elena Popp, head of the nonprofit Eviction Defense Network. “And there’s nowhere else for them to go in their neighborhoods or in the city, and when folks realize that, they get much more ardent about fighting to save their homes.”

What’s happening on Robinson Street is going on all over Los Angeles. Old places are being torn down to make way for what’s marketed as luxury housing. The median sale price for a home in LA has almost doubled in the past five years. It takes over $109,000 in annual income to rent the average two-bedroom apartment here. The median individual income is $28,000.

New money is flooding the city as thousands of tenants face eviction, homeowners fight city hall over development, and black and Latino neighborhoods brace themselves for gentrification.

Data from the Longitudinal Tract Database created by John R. Logan, Zengwang Xu, and Brian Stults. Maps created by Michael Bader.

Los Angeles feels like it’s running out of room. The LA of the future will have tall apartment towers and new light-rail lines, hip stores and cutting-edge museums, green jobs and start-up tech businesses. But will there be a place for you?


How does gentrification affect you? What’s it like to find and keep housing in LA?

“As a photographer, I have witnessed entire buildings wiped clean of their tenants for the sake of doubling the rent.”

— John Urquiza

“A roof over your head should never be seen as an investment. It’s what has gotten us into all this mess.”

— Xana Hermosillo

“I support affordable housing for artists and others because we desperately need a community of people serving humanity, not a community of robots dislocating people, creating more homelessness.”

— Gina Kaulbach