By Anna Daniels
Gentrification definitely has hit the community. We believe that, because of the respect the planning committee had for the total community, that they would have gone “mano-a-mano” against the condo converters. The majority of the victims jettisoned because of the conversions will never return to the neighborhood. They can’t afford to. But, let’s bring it a little closer to home. How many of us living on our present means could afford to buy a home in Golden Hill, South Park or Brooklyn Heights? Kinda sobering, isn’t it? Interview with Carlos and Linda LeGerrette
The San Diego Free Press neighborhood focus during the month of May has been on Golden Hill, one of San Diego’s oldest communities. One of the most visible elements of Golden Hill is the elegant old mansions that comprise the historic district.
These mansions are a tangible reminder of individual wealth and power amassed in years past. Today, many of those mansions are still owner occupied, while some have been divided into rental units; others are now attorney offices or operated as half-way houses. These disparate uses reflect a more nuanced story about wealth, power and changing demographics in Golden Hill today.
I spent a few hours walking around Golden Hill, not along the historic or commercial district, but along one particular side street off of 25th Street that has been beckoning to me. I set off down a steep hill and explored streets that dead ended at the 94 Freeway or on the other end, at a flight of steps up to Broadway.
Golden Hill: The parallel universes of high housing prices and low median household incomes… On the side streets off the historic district, single family houses become smaller and apartment complexes become more noticeable. Many of the side streets contain a combination of both, which reflects later zoning decisions regarding density and infill. The apartments on these streets, however, were built much later than those in the historic district–they include parking.
Some of the single family homes have owners who painted and restored their homes in keeping with traditional craftsman style architecture while others broke from the traditional color palette. There are also homes which have simply weathered in place.
I unexpectedly came upon an unpaved alley behind an abandoned looking house that had fruit laden orange trees in the back yard and an old swing set. A thick cluster of arundo grass waved above my head in the wind and hooded orioles darted about in this small world that existed apart from the urban life surrounding it.
The median single home price in Golden Hill is $733K, compared to $616K city wide.
The median household income in Golden Hill is $49k compared to the city wide median of $61K . 22.9% of the population lives below poverty level, compared to a city wide median of 15.2%
The median rent in Golden Hill is $905/month compared to a city wide median of $1,187.
The upshot of these statistics is pretty apparent- if the work you do results in a paycheck or a monthly defined retirement or disability benefit, home ownership is likely beyond your reach. Renting in Golden Hill is perhaps a stretch but still doable for those same individuals. Doable rents are relative, however. Single working mothers as well as young professionals, artists and skilled laborers all currently call Golden Hill home.
The question remains whether property values will continue to rise and whether rents will remain “affordable” in Golden Hill. The first people to get squeezed out when rents rise or condo conversions occur are the single mothers, the families in which English is not the first language, workers in San Diego’s burgeoning low paying service industries and the elderly and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes.
San Diego real estate development interests and the financial sector continue to be the tide that lift all yachts… This displacement remains largely invisible and broadly acceptable. There are few if any public policies that address the issue of rising rents or the attendant displacement of whole segments of our communities. That is a testimony to how entrenched those development and financial interests are in San Diego and the degree to which our elected representatives, as policy makers, have been willing to go along with those interests.
At the end of my walk, I decided to have lunch at Krakatoa, with a bird’s eye view of the commercial district along 25th Street. It appeared to me that Golden Hill has found an equilibrium, at least for the moment. The commercial district on 25th Street is human scale–most of the buildings are only one story and the flowering jacaranda formed a purple canopy over the streetscape. It was lovely. There is a mix of laundromats, restaurants, car repair businesses, markets and flower vendors which reflect a diverse mix of cultural tastes and preferences and a small scale business response to the basic needs of residents. I saw signage in English and Spanish.
Welcome to City Heights: Ellis Island, colonized by Corporate America… My return to City Heights and the area where I live was jarring. The differences between the 25th Street commercial district in Golden Hill and the commercial district along University Avenue between Fairmount and Euclid are astounding.
I didn’t see billboards in Golden Hill. Nor did I see a preponderance of fast food franchises– Denny’s, Panda Express, McDonald’s, Subway and Starbucks. I didn’t see five story mixed use buildings along 25th Street, shattering the scale of the cityscape.
While wealthy shaker and movers a hundred years ago were building mansions in Golden Hill, folks were rabbit hunting in the wide open chaparral of the then unincorporated area that would become East San Diego and then City Heights. How do I craft a meaningful conversation with Golden Hill residents, who live in a much smaller geographic area, with far fewer people, a different history, different demographics and different zoning and land use policies?
City Heights: A story of infill, redevelopment and the transfer of wealth outside of the community… The term infill refers to zoning decisions that encourage greater population density in areas that are already built out. It is a way of slowing down encroachment on the few remaining open space areas, mostly in the northern parts of the city. The city’s urban core, which includes City Heights, Golden Hill and North Park, all have land use policies that permit continued densification along major transit corridors and other specified areas, generally commercial nodes.
These zoning decisions have been hotly contested and some areas in the urban core have been down zoned as a result. Continued infill puts a strain on public infrastructure and public services and much of the infill has occurred in areas which have been historically deprived of those very things. And rapid infill challenges the established sense of community identity in often wrenching ways.
The massive redevelopment projects initiated in City Heights during the 1990’s were envisioned as a way to address both the lack of public infrastructure and add more apartments and commercial spaces–i.e. infill.
Redevelopment profoundly changed the face of City Heights in a relatively short period of time. The infill genie will never be put back into the bottle. If I were limited to only one contrasting element between Golden Hill and City Heights, it would be the use of redevelopment in the latter.
The median household income in City Heights is $38K, eleven thousand dollars less than the median income in Golden Hill of $49k. Median rents are slightly higher here, at $916/month. 41.4% of the population is foreign born, compared to 25.8% city wide.
While rents are still affordable to the taxi drivers, hotel maids, grocery clerks, school aides and retired people who live in City Heights, the low, low price of homes in the area- $375K– is well beyond their reach. Besides, many of those homes are being bought up with cash in short sales, because of the foreclosures in the area. City Heights is losing its owner occupied housing stock to the real estate developers and investors. The cycle of boom and bust begins yet again in City Heights.
Unlike Golden Hill, there is no sense of equilibrium in City Heights among the disparate interests. It remains an energetic highly transient, culturally diverse community and it has little political clout. I don’t see that situation changing much in the immediate future unless the cost of housing stretches the financial limits of low wage earners here. At some point, there will be few places where they can afford to live in the city. We seem woefully unprepared and unwilling to deal with that possibility.
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