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Inglewood Community Fights Gentrification Driven By Tech Boom

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We often hear about gentrifying neighborhoods. It's less common to hear of an entire city gentrifying all at once. That's what's happening in Inglewood, Calif., a city in southwest Los Angeles County. Anna Scott of member station KCRW reports.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: If you've never been to Inglewood, there's a good chance you've heard of it. In the '80s and '90s, it was known for high crime and gang violence. That was never the full picture. But these days, the city's name is more synonymous with real estate development. Inglewood gentrification is even a storyline on the HBO comedy "Insecure." Several large projects are under construction, including a billion-dollar NFL stadium scheduled to open next summer.

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SCOTT: But you can't see that yet on Market Street, a commercial strip lined with mom and pop shops selling clothes, beauty supplies, school uniforms - and some empty storefronts.

MONIQUE WASHINGTON: I'm excited about businesses coming back to the city.

SCOTT: Monique Washington is standing outside a coffee shop.

WASHINGTON: But it's changing very rapidly. You're out-pricing a lot of people. Where do they go?

SCOTT: On top of all the new development. Inglewood sits about five miles in from LA's Silicon Beach, home to tens of thousands of tech jobs. Real estate investors have bought up apartment buildings here in recent years, and in many cases, raised rents.

DORCAS GREEN-EGAY: This time last year I was paying 1,550.

SCOTT: A retired teacher who introduced herself as Dorcas Green-Egay (ph) was one of dozens who spoke at an Inglewood City Council meeting in June.

GREEN-EGAY: And for May and June, I was expected to pay 2,000. No one in my building can afford that.

SCOTT: Stories like this led city officials to pass Inglewood's first ever rent control measure. One of the activists who pushed for the ordinance, Tiffany Wallace, says new investment threatens many longtime residents.

TIFFANY WALLACE: It's a city that's majority black and brown people. It's median income - it's below the median income of Los Angeles. And we don't want to see displacement happen just because there's development that's in the community.

SCOTT: Adding to the squeeze, Inglewood is one of few largely African American communities left in the region. In the past 20 years, LA County's black population has dropped from about 10% to 9%.

WALLACE: So it's like the city is being beautified, but it's not being beautified for us.

PATRICK HUTCHINSON: I just purchased a 2019 Suzuki Hayabusa - Ferrari of the bikes.

SCOTT: Patrick Hutchinson is showing off his new motorcycle outside his condo on a tree-lined Inglewood street. He's a longtime resident happy about the changes. He and his wife bought their condo out of foreclosure for $80,000.

HUTCHINSON: My mortgage is 800 a month, which I love.

SCOTT: That's unusual. Two years ago, the median home sale price in Inglewood was about $435,000 according to the website Zillow. Now it's around 520,000. Hutchinson is counting on it going even higher.

HUTCHINSON: My plan is to go ahead and stay here for a couple of years, and then we're going to buy a house in Nevada, rent this condo out. And yes, that's my retirement plan.

SCOTT: Inglewood can benefit from new investment and protect low-income renters, argues Mayor James Butts. He points to policies like a local hiring requirement to build the new NFL stadium.

JAMES BUTTS: There are more people working in Inglewood today than any time in the last 40 years.

SCOTT: When you look around the country at other cities, do you see any that are a good model of striking that balance?

BUTTS: There is no city in the country that has transitioned from a brand of unemployment, poverty, high crime to where Inglewood has transitioned in just four years. So there is no template.

SCOTT: Butts wants his city to be the model. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.