A group of local activists gathered to voice their concerns over the delay of the low-income Bethune Crossroads housing project on Vermont Avenue near USC on Wednesday.
The project lays out plans for a 55-unit complex to be built on an empty lot on Vermont between 36th Place and 37th Street. The site is directly south of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Many activists at the rally were members of TRUST South LA — Tenemos Que Reclamar Y Unidos Salvar La Tierra (Together We Must Reclaim and Save the Land) — and are putting pressure on state legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown to continue funding projects, such as the Bethune Crossroads project.
The group fears that the state-owned land will be auctioned off and sold to student housing developers — an increasingly common occurrence on the west side of campus, according to a survey conducted by United Neighbors In Defense Against Displacement of Los Angeles.
“This community is being absorbed like a virus by USC,” said Brent Blair, director of Applied Theatre Arts at USC.
Blair has taught at USC for 18 years and has lived on the west side for three years. He said community members have been directly displaced by students moving into west side housing.
More than 90 percent of the housing on 36th Place between Vermont and Budlong avenues was community-serving housing in 1999, according to UNIDAD’s survey.
UNIDAD conducted the same survey 10 years later and found that 25 percent of housing remained community-serving as 75 percent had been developed into non-university-owned student housing.
“This is the community’s land,” said Rosa Giron, a TRUST volunteer and St. Mark’s member. “Why can’t students and families co-exist?”
In 2011, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles and the L.A. City Council gave the preliminary go-ahead for the Bethune Crossroads project, named after the now-demolished Bethune Library, which once occupied the vacant plot of land. The CRA/LA was set to put up $3 million to help fund the low-income housing project.
But funding for the CRA/LA — and similar state agencies — was cut after the California State Supreme Court upheld a controversial bill that was passed as a part of Brown’s 2011-2012 budget proposal. The law eliminated more than 400 local redevelopment agencies in California and jeopardized numerous projects, including Bethune Crossroads.
Sandra McNeill, executive director of TRUST, spoke at a press conference before the group’s rally. McNeill stressed the need for the completion of projects by the state and how the development will have a lasting effect.
“Any cut they make will cause this community to bleed,” McNeill said. “However, as a community, we must critique the actions which the state has taken that have resulted … in denying our ability to advance a long-term vision for a healthy, safe and vibrant community.”
The CRA/LA handed over its current backlog of projects to a successor agency on Wednesday. The successor agency has until June to decide on a limited number of projects to undertake.
Alfredo Avila, a graduate student in the Applied Theatre Arts program, said he is concerned with the state potentially cutting direct funding to USC-area community redevelopments, which would pave the way for more student housing.
“[Building more student housing is] not a horrible thing,” Avila said. “But students are only here temporarily.”
USC does not own university housing on the west side of campus, but David Galaviz, executive director of local government relations for the university, said the school is in favor of community development in neighboring areas.
“The university definitely supports efforts to improve the lives of the surrounding community [members],” Galaviz said.