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Residents of the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts seemed both concerned and excited about the pending redevelopment of their complex Saturday, as they gathered for “a day of dialog” facilitated by neighborhood advocates, the Poor People’s Campaign and the SCLC of Greater Los Angeles. The meeting took place inside the Jordan Downs Recreational Center November 3, where community leaders attempted to allay fears and explain what the housing improvements would involve. However, despite positive feedback from some, other residents are seeing the change as a systematic evacuation.
“Why Jordan Downs,” one resident inquired suspiciously.
“I don’t see anybody planning to ‘improve’ Imperial Courts or Nickerson Gardens... what’s so special about us? What are the developers getting out of this?”
“The founder of our union, Rhodia Daniels lived in Jordan Downs for twenty years before she moved out,” Union leader and Poor People’s Campaign member Tyrone Freeman explained.
“There is a family connection [to Jordan Downs] for us.”
Neither Southern Christian Leadership Conference Greater Los Angeles, Service Employees International Union nor any member of the Poor People’s Campaign are connected to the developer(s) involved with the project. They were not able to tell residents who that developer would be at Saturday’s meeting. They called the meeting, they said, as liasons between the residents, the Housing Authority and whoever is involved in rebuilding the projects, making sure the people were fully informed and involved in the decision making process.
“Our collective resolve is to help this community rebuild by first providing an opportunity for the current residents to live in new homes in Jordan Downs and transform it into a safe, thriving place to live and do business within the next few years,” Freeman said.
But still, questions like, “are we going to be able to come back,”” is this going to be a situation like New Orleans” (where hurricane victims may not be able to return home because of new housing and raised rent) and will low income residents be able to afford rent in the new housing,” kept coming up.
“There are a whole lot of developers plotting on [Jordan Downs],” Freeman revealed.
“There are a whole lot of people planning on getting a piece of Jordan Downs. That’s the reason we’re here... We want to make sure that the rent will be the same and the 700 [housing] units will go back to us. We’re going to set our collective standards before the developers come in.
“We’re not going to wait until the bulldozers start coming in and then everyone’s pulling for themselves. We’re saying we want redevelopment but we want it under our terms.”
“We want everything in writing,” said one resident.
“Can you guarantee what you’re saying?”
“Change is good,” another resident, Yvette, said.
“But it has to be where no one gets hurt. We’re talking about families here.”
Others were more optimistic, including a former resident who said he lived in Jordan Downs in the 1950s, when it was originally built for post World War II housing.
“When my family lived here it was very nice. We’re way past due for redevelopment,” he said.
Jordan Downs is a 700-unit complex in Watts consisting of 103 buildings including townhouse style units ranging in size from one bedroom to five bedrooms. Los Angeles’ Housing Authority owns and manages it.
The complex is bounded by Grape Street to the west, 97th Street to the north, Alameda Street to the east, and 103rd Street to the south.
“You have the right to fresh paint, green grass, trees and all the nice things that other people have,” said the man.
“We’ve deserve the best,” Freeman agreed.
“We’ve been dealing with the worst for far too long.”