live / 2021

Putting Public Lands in Public Hands: United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD)

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE)

The UNIDAD (United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement) Coalition supports development without displacement. As we emerge from a devastating pandemic that hit neighborhoods like South LA the hardest, it is more important than ever that we leverage public land for the public good. UNIDAD will educate and mobilize South LA residents to support community led development on public land that creates affordable housing, good jobs, green space, clean air, small business opportunities, and better, healthier neighborhoods for the same neighbors.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • South LA
  • City of Los Angeles

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

Low income people have been excluded from housing and land ownership through redlining, racial covenants, and most recently through predatory lending and foreclosure practices, leading to increased poverty, displacement, and homelessness in communities of color. The pandemic and resulting economic situation have also created ideal conditions for even more rapid displacement as investors search for real estate “bargains” in gentrifying areas. Corrupt landlords harass hard-working families and neglect buildings while charging exorbitant rents; activists hear stories about cockroaches in children’s ears and teenagers with rat bites. The residents who created these vibrant neighborhoods are now being forced out of them. A great opportunity exists to address these inequities by leveraging public land for community-serving development, but all too often local residents are outmaneuvered by canny outsiders who know the system and can gain control of valuable public assets for their own gain.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

In the wake of the pandemic and economic downturn, some LA elected officials have voiced an interest in directing “public land for the public good” by using government owned land to build affordable housing and drive community serving economic development. This is a huge opportunity to create safe, healthy neighborhoods for downtrodden communities; thousands of lots in LA, including under-used parcels like parking lots, are owned by public entities. This use of public land could provide much needed jobs, small business opportunities, and affordable housing. To realize these opportunities, community members must show their support and fight for truly community serving development while forestalling the efforts of outside investors to seize these resources first. The UNIDAD coalition will spread awareness of this opportunity through outreach, organizing, education, and leadership development. We will focus on: 1) supporting motions by City and County elected officials to identify public land suitable for community-serving development; 2) fighting to ensure all publicly owned land in South LA is used for parks or green space or has an affordable housing requirement and 3) educating community members about a government-owned lot, formerly a beloved public library, slated to be sold to a hotel developer. The UNIDAD Coalition will develop community leaders who can engage in civic decision making about land use and successfully work to ensure public land is used for the public good.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

8,000
Direct impact
300,000
Indirect impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

We will address historic and systemic inequity by supporting residents in efforts to allocate public land for the public good, building a model for how development can be equitable. Los Angeles is one of the most productive cities in the world. Our growth and energy come from the people who live here, and the time has come to honor their contributions by prioritizing the needs of the communities that, knit together, compose the greater community of LA. In the past, the allocation of land and development practices have — much to our sorrow — been shaped by greed and corruption, in part because the opacity of decision making around land use favors the rich and powerful. Through the involvement of community members, we will change the way that public resources are used, and development happens in this city, by successfully advocating for community-serving uses of public land that not only provide real material benefits for residents but are an example of how development can work in LA.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

We will measure success first by our ability to educate community members about the importance of public land for the public good in the following ways: 1) we will alert at least 8,000 South LA residents about public land and its importance to the community through social media, flyering, community meetings, and door-knocking; 2) 100 residents will participate in specific activities, such as our “Peoples Planning School,” that educate tenants about land use law and civic participation; and 3) 200 residents will engage with elected officials to urge them to use public land for the public good, including an historic library site slated for hotel development. We will measure our success at securing public land for the public good by the passage of motions at the City and County of Los Angeles identifying parcels suitable for development, and by ensuring that NO public land is developed in South LA without a green space or affordable housing requirement attached to it.

Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.

SAJE will educate residents on land use and the planning process at both the City and County of Los Angeles, and research current legislative efforts to identify public land to be used for the public good. TRUST South LA will educate residents on alternative forms of land ownership, especially land trusts. Esperanza will train community health educators who focus on the built environment. CD Tech will provide technical expertise on local, small businesses and economic development. Staff from all agencies will contribute to education and outreach materials for community residents, participate in social media work and community meetings, train residents as spokespeople, and facilitate resident engagement with elected officials through petitions and participation in public hearings.

Which of the live metrics will you impact?​

  • Housing affordability
  • Resilient communities
  • Homelessness

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the best place to LEARN