Build It, and It Will Come: Inglewood and Gentrification

In 2016, when the current site of SoFi Stadium was still an unturned area of dirt before groundbreaking in November of the same year, Stan Kroenke – the owner of the Los Angeles Rams – predicted that the stadium would create ripple effects so profound that the property values in the surrounding neighborhoods would rise with the stadium. The pending addition of an 18,500-seat arena to host the Steve Ballmer-owned Los Angeles Clippers only exacerbates concern among homeowners and renters in Inglewood.

Plenty has been written about this perilous relationship between an NFL goliath and what has been coined as America’s “Last Black Enclave” already. For example, Knock LA told the story of renters in Inglewood combating landlords to repair “broken pipes, flooded floors, and mounds of mold.” The requests for repairs went ignored, as landlords opted to spruce up the outward appearance of the complex to attract new, deep-pocketed tenants while they hoped that ignoring needed repairs forced the current tenants to relocate. The Los Angeles Times highlighted Inglewood resident Tomisha Pinson, whose two-bedroom apartment – situated next to the site of SoFi Stadium – increased in monthly rent from $1,145 to $2,725 (a nearly 140-percent increase).

A City Shaped by Racist Policies

This socioeconomic impact cannot be ignored. Inglewood, as a city, was shaped by racist housing policies. As part of the Great Migration, many Blacks found new homes on the West Coast, particularly in areas such as Long Beach and South Central Los Angeles. However, redlining – or the categorization of these areas being “hazardous” to mortgage lenders because of racial and ethnic demographics – made loans for minorities virtually impossible to receive.

It was not until the white flight, caused by the Watts riots of 1965, did white residents move to “more conservative outskirts like Orange County.” The white flight to Maria del Rey, Playa Vista, and other upscale and non-Black communities was a “decisive moment in the city’s racial history” as it was now “populated by African Americans” with Hispanics quickly moving into the enclave as well.

This population change ultimately shifted the demographic makeup of the city, including income, housing, and education. No longer was Inglewood considered a “white upscale community.” Rather, it was shifting towards bing categorized as a “ghetto” by outside observers. By the early 1980s, the impact of Proposition 13 engulfed Inglewood. The outcome of Proposition 13, which “capped funding for public schools and other services” indirectly led to the city’s “crack cocaine epidemic overseen at the street level by burgeoning gangs.”

After the impact of Proposition 13, Inglewood came to be characterized as a city with “boarded-up storefronts, widespread poverty and unemployment, rampant disorder, and high rates of violent crimes.” By the mid-1990s, Inglewood claimed the 14th highest murder rate in the United States among those cities with a population of at least 100,000. As well, Inglewood’s school district was “virtually bankrupt” and its buildings were considered to be “decrepit, rat-infested, underperforming, underfunded, and understaffed.”

SoFi Stadium, and the conversion of the land previously home to the Hollywood Racetrack to mixed-use real estate that is set to include retail and office space, hotels, a casino, and an entertainment complex, has the city that hip-hop icon Dr. Dree deemed as “always up to no good” positioned to become the country’s next “global city.”

Without a doubt, Inglewood is already in the midst of gentrification – a phenomenon concisely defined by Smith as the process whereby “poor, urban, and working-class neighborhoods” get “rejuvenated through a sudden increase of private capital investment and an influx of middle-class residents.” Because of this, there is significant concern that these changes will “forever erase the rich history” of California’s “last Black enclave.” The competing issues are clear.

How can a historically underrepresented population continue life as usual in their “last enclave” while significant gentrification is occurring all around them? To be sure, Inglewood has long been “condemned as blighted and unsuitable for capital investment.” However, as gentrification continues unabated into otherwise minority neighborhoods, capital investment firms now view these areas as “prime targets for redevelopment through increased private investment.”  

Of course, the racial undertone of this type of gentrification is resulting in these existing “Black, poor, and other marginalized communities” becoming prime real estate for “whiter and more affluent residents and consumers.” Ron Daniels, the president of the Baltimore-based civil rights group Institue of the Black World 21st Century, called this “reverse white flight” – or the moving of white people back into the neighborhood they fled, now likely culturally and racially defined as a Black community – an “insidious onslaught” and that this type of gentrification was “rapidly displacing hundreds of thousands of Black people.”

And there is no doubt about it: the area immediately surrounding SoFi Stadium prior to the facility’s construction, was overwhelmingly a minority population.

Percentage of Minority Population by Census Tract

In the above interactive map, the minority population is being calculated by adding the estimated Black, Asian, and Hispanic residents of each census tract that falls within the limits of Inglewood from the 2019 American Community Survey as issued by the federal government.

The census tract that is home to SoFi Stadium, for example, is 95.82% minority (with the vast majority of that numbers, 76%, being Black residents). 

This map highlights that the impacts of SoFi Stadium and gentrification are, without a doubt, impacting – almost solely – minority residents. 

There are currently grassroots movements attempting to tell the street-level stories of those being impacted by SoFi Stadium’s economic upheaval. The Lennox-Inglewood Tenants Union regularly tweets about the ongoing displacement in Inglewood and has become the unofficial voice for the unhoused and vulnerable populations in the city. The NOlympics LA group – originally formed to resist the accelerated “policing, eviction, inequality, exploitations, and erosion of democracy” created by hosing the Olympics – has joined in lockstep with the LITU to raise awareness of the city’s increased housing prices and problematic gentrification.

The stories being told by journalists and advocacy groups on the ground regarding rent increases, de facto evictions via a contemptuous ignoring of suitable living standards, and the forced displacement of the chronically vulnerable provides a much needed qualitative and undeniably real undertone to the situation. 

A quantitative approach underscores just how unjustifiably bleak the situation has become. A numbers-based approach, despite lacking the humanistic quality displayed by LITU and NOlympics LA and having as much engrained empathy as the concrete used to build SoFi Stadium, does provide further contextualization to go along with the ground-level stories being told.