Nicaraguan Neighborhood Provides Housing to the Poorest

This post is an English translation of an article that was originally written in Spanish by Andrea Penman-Lomeli. The original article can be found here.

Their plan allowed for the urbanization of an area that had been unoccupied for ten years, providing services and recovering the city’s investment.

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Currently, Faniz Jirón is the owner of her home, where she can plant fruit trees near her house. She lives in what today is the housing cooperative Juntando Manos, but ten years ago she had no other option but to rent. “I sought alternatives to save for a house but I could not find them,” says Jirón. She and a lot of people who are low-income in León—the second most populous city in Nicaragua—found a solution thanks to the Urban Expansion Project of Southeast León.

Before, this was a rural area that had no housing or services. However, through this project, in five years the city managed to produce 3,000 lots for low-income people. At the same time, in ten years, the city managed to recover the investment that it had made.

The initiative started with a $1,408,000-dollar seed capital fund, a result of a collaboration between the city of León and the city of Utrecht, Netherlands. It is estimated that in fifteen years, 6,416 lots that house 32,000 people have been developed. It went from being a vacant and deserted piece of land to an environment where there is pavement, electricity, storm drainage, drinking water, public transportation, and other services. This earned it the recognition of “best practices” in urban planning issues from the United Nations Habitat (UN-Habitat). But how is it that such a large space was developed in a progressive and equitable manner?

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

When the city council approved the Plan in 1996, there was a strong need for land in the region. According to UN-Habitat, the annual growth rate was at 4.3%, this because of the migration of people from rural areas to the city of León. In 1998, 32.7% of the urban population was identified as living in poverty. All of this was happening after a period of civil war and economic restructuring, were there was not much public investment. After the 1990 elections, the cities were to be responsible for their own urban development. “All of the cities were saying ‘Who is going to help us?… Nobody,’” explains Marc Pérez-Casas, researcher at the Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña in Barcelona, Spain and consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank. “They had a good amount of land without infrastructure, without electricity, water, etc. They wanted a way to develop this space and provide an opportunity to purchase it.”

During the first phase (1999 – 2008) of this plan, the cities of Utrecht and León created the Office of Urban Expansion of Southeast León/Oficina de la Expansión Urbana de León Sureste (EULSE). The EULSE would sell the land and give credit to low-income families with family wages between $120 and $440 dollars (the average wage in Nicaragua is of $330 dollars a month) and who could prove that they did not own other property. The lots, which were vacant, cost between $1,100 and $4,500 dollars and the families would buy them with a financing option of a 10% interest rate from the EULSE—which continues to be a very favorable rate in Nicaragua. According to a study done by Pérez-Casas [and Francesc Magrinyà Torner], microfinance institutions offer financing to low-income families at interest rates that range between 26% and 36%.

“There was financing accessible to low-income families so that they could purchase this type of dwelling…this is what is new,” says Pérez-Casas. The family could not occupy the land until they had paid half of the loan, which in general took a year and half to do so. “I pay a lot less a month than when I was renting,” says Jirón. Before, her rent was $70 dollars a month. Today she pays $30 dollars a month, which will result in the ownership of her home.

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

In the analysis of the first phase (1999 – 2008), it was found that the cities had recovered their seed capital investment and that the land had been progressively urbanized. “In the year 1999 or 2000, all of the infrastructure had not been built, rather it was done little by little. In fact, it took them five or six years to have water and electricity,” says Pérez-Casas.

The plan depended in a revolving fund, meaning that it is a fund that invests the profits in the same plan to purchase more lots and infrastructure. “The most important thing of all of this is that since that urbanization was coming from the public sector, they had reserved spaces for public facilities,” says Pérez-Casas. In those areas, the government built schools, health centers, community centers, and parks.

The urban expansion of southeast León has been a learning process through action. Innovations that continue to influence the community emerged from the plan. For example, the cooperatives. In these [cooperatives], the families gathered to ask for budgets and buy land in groups, which ended up creating a community.” It was a very nice experience because not only is it a housing cooperative but we also ended up being partners and developing a community. There is a more humane coexistence,” says Jirón. Organizations such as We Effect supported these cooperatives and created models that were replicated in many neighborhoods. She was a part of one of the first cooperatives and worked five years for the mayor, to support others that were trying to do the same.

Building Group of Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Building Group of Housing Cooperative in León, Nicaragua

Another unexpected development was the interest in the Urban Expansion Project from the private sector, who would buy the lots from the city at a higher price and then resell them to middle class families. “[The city] took that capital gain, that extra income that they had, and were able to invest it to finance part of the structure,” explains Pérez-Casas. Here two interesting processes occurred. “You have the private sector build where one wants, in other words you are facilitating an area of expansion,” says the expert. “[On the other hand], they sell to families with moderate incomes; therefore, you mix different social classes.” This is positive since you minimize the segregation and diversify the communities. In the second phase, of the 3,200 lots that were sold, 1,500 of these were for the private sector and the other 1,700 [lots] were for the public sector.

In the future, Pérez-Casas says that the control of prices will be a challenge, since during the time that the urbanization has taken place, the prices of the land have increased. This makes it difficult for cities to buy more lots.

While other cities depend on private financing for their urban development—Nicaragua has no urban planning laws and recently in 2000 it passed a housing law—León has found an equitable way to do it. According to the study of Pérez-Casas [and Francesc Magrinyà Torner], this formula can also be replicated in other cities. “For me, one of the most important things is that the city projected where the population was going to grow, but it also developed a land policy,” says Jirón. And this policy has impacted her daily life. “Now we have more security, more control over our lives.”

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

H/T CityLab Latino


Sanctuary City: The Meaning, History, and Significance of Adopting These Protective Policies

*This blog post is part one of a four-part blog series dedicated to the topic of sanctuary cities.

Barstow Presbytarian Church, Barstow, Texas

Presbyterian Church, Barstow, Texas

In January 25, 2017, President Donald John Trump signed the Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. The order contains a clause that targets sanctuary cities in the United States. Arguing national security concerns, President Trump’s executive order seeks to cut billions of dollars in federal funding from sanctuary cities, counties, and states that harbor undocumented immigrants. If implemented, the order would negatively impact sanctuary places across the nation.

What is a sanctuary city? While there is no single definition for a “sanctuary city,” it usually refers to cities, counties, and states that have adopted policies that limit their cooperation or involvement with federal immigration authorities. In general, this means that these places decline most requests to detain, pursue, or report undocumented immigrants who have had contact with local law enforcement. However, these protective policies do not safeguard immigrants who commit serious or violent crimes.

The idea of sanctuary cities dates to the early 1980s. At the time, Central Americans were fleeing the civil war and violence in countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. Yet, the United States government initially refused to grant them refugee status. In response, churches decided to provide sanctuary to these immigrants.

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall, San Francisco, California

The concept was later adopted by communities whose local officials viewed the federal immigration policies as harsh towards individuals who were arrested for minor, non-violent crimes. Furthermore, both local police and politicians have indicated that not collaborating with immigration authorities encourage immigrants to report crimes to local authorities and make communities safer. This concern is reiterated in a report published in May 2013 by the University of Illinois at Chicago. The report’s findings reveal that when local authorities collaborate with federal immigration officials, it becomes more difficult to investigate crimes because victims or witnesses that are undocumented immigrants are less likely to come forward since they are afraid of being detained and deported.

There is not an exact figure as to the number of sanctuary cities and counties in the United States. However, according to data collected from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, there are 635 counties where the local police does not currently collaborate with requests from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to hold immigrants in detention (ICE detainers) for additional time.

Despite the president’s threat to withhold federal funding, mayors and police chiefs from major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco have reaffirmed their commitment to uphold sanctuary polices. Moreover, they have expressed their opposition to the executive order. Local government officials from these cities argue that cutting federal funding from sanctuary cities would generate adverse effects to the economy, public safety, and social fabric of these communities.

Yet, some of the claims made by opponents of sanctuary cities are:

  • Sanctuary cities encourage undocumented immigration;
  • Sanctuary cities compromise public safety because it results in crimes that could have been avoided through deportation; and,
  • Sanctuary cities provide haven for drug cartels, gangs, and terrorist cells—since their activities are less likely to be detected and reported by law enforcement.
Local Police Assistance with Deportations

Local Police Assistance with Deportations by State, United States. Source: Immigrant Legal Resource Center

However, Tom K. Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego did a study on sanctuary counties. Wong analyzed a sample of 2,492 counties from an ICE dataset. In the sample, 608 counties were identified as “sanctuary counties” because local law enforcement did not accept detainers requests from ICE to hold suspected undocumented individuals in custody for additional time. Some of his findings include:

  • There are 35.5 fewer violent and property crimes per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties versus non-sanctuary ones;
  • On average, sanctuary counties had higher median incomes (by about $4,353);
  • There is lower poverty (by 2.3 percent) in sanctuary counties; and
  • Sanctuary counties have slightly lower unemployment rates (1.1 percent)

Therefore, Wong concluded that sanctuary counties that protect all of their residents have a lower crime and higher economic well-being than non-sanctuary counties.

 As of the writing of this blog, the executive order is under litigation. San Francisco was the first city to sue the president arguing that it is a violation of the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment.

The president argues that implementation of the executive order will ensure the public safety of the nation. However, by targeting sanctuary cities, the order will only serve an antithetical result, as the public safety, economy, and social fabric of local communities will be affected. It will discourage undocumented immigrants from collaborating with local law enforcement, dissuade them from contributing to the local economy, and ultimately separate them from their families. What policies does your community currently have that would identify it as a sanctuary? How have sanctuary policies benefited or affected your community?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.



The Influence of “Latino Urbanism” in Reshaping Los Angeles


Food truck in Wilmington, Los Angeles, California

The influx of immigrants from Latin America has significantly increased since 1965. Push factors such as limited economic opportunities, authoritarian or corrupt governments, wars, and natural disasters have all played a significant role in why people from the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and South America have made the decision to emigrate to the United States. The migration of Latino immigrants to cities like Los Angeles further reinforces the notion of a “Multicultural America.” Where, one can savor a variety of cuisines, dance to different musical rhythms, and hear words and phrases spoken in Spanish and/or other dialects.

The influence of Latino culture is also reflected in the way Latinos utilize space in their communities or as James Rojas would call it the “enacted environment” or “Latino Urbanism.” In his 1991 thesis, The Enacted Environment: The Creation of Place by Mexican and Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles, Rojas discusses the way Latinos—specifically Mexicans and Mexican Americans—made use of spaces like the front yard, sidewalk, and the street in East Los Angeles. He argues that the person is not only the user but also the creator of such spaces. He cites as examples:

  • A quinceañera celebration in the front yard,
  • Kids playing a hockey or soccer game on the street,
  • Mariachis walking on the sidewalks waiting to serenade someone,
  • Street vendors on a street corner selling tamales or tacos, and
  • Murals painted on blank wall spaces that become a cultural expression.

Mural in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California

More than 30 years later, we see these enacted environments taking place in other communities of Los Angeles and across the country. For instance, the first CicLAvia was held in Los Angeles on October 2010 and was inspired by ciclovía events that started forty years ago in Bogota, Colombia. This open streets initiative closes the streets to car traffic and allows Angelenos to walk, bike, and mingle with others. Latino Urbanism is thereby reshaping present-day Los Angeles.

However, there are aspects of it that have generated discussions and debates among Angelenos. Currently communities like Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles seek to legalize street vending, which for many represents a form of stable income for their families while others argue unfair competition and blight. Conversely, in August of 2013, the City of Los Angeles lifted a ten year ban on public murals, a component that has become a cultural icon of communities like Boyle Heights and Pacoima. This makes one wonder: how then do we reconcile the differences that exist between Latino Urbanism practices and enacted local municipal codes?

How has Latino Urbanism reshaped your community? How have local government officials responded to the influence of Latino Urbanism? 

Credits: Image #1 by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes; Image #2 linked to source.  Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in January 2016. H/T The Global Grid

Central Avenue Jazz Festival: Celebrating Cultural History in South Los Angeles


Dunbar Hotel in Central Avenue, Los Angeles, California

In July 2015, the Vernon-Central neighborhood of South Los Angeles closed segments of Central Avenue to celebrate the annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival. That year was particularly special as it marked the twentieth anniversary of this event. Co-sponsored by the 9th District Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren D. Price, Jr. and Coalition for Responsible Community Development, this free two-day event attracts approximately 35,000 people every year. The festival represents an opportunity for members of the community and visitors alike to come together and make use of space usually reserved for transit. One can enjoy savory multicultural cuisine while visiting several pavilions and listening to live performances that include musical genres such as jazz, blues, and Latin jazz. Across two large stages, attendees listened to performers that included Alfredo Rodriguez Trio, the Kenny Burell Big Band, and Poncho Sanchez.

The jazz festival is a tribute to the community’s rich cultural history. During the 1930s and 1940s, Central Avenue was a vibrant center for jazz in this historically African-American area of the City of Los Angeles. Central Avenue also served as a temporary home for jazz legends like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Despite being able to perform at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, these jazz legends were unable to stay in the vicinity as there were racially restrictive covenants in place at the time that demarcated the areas where African-Americans were allowed to live.  Therefore, these jazz musicians, along with other visiting African-Americans celebrities, would stay at the now historical-cultural monument, the Dunbar Hotel located on Central Avenue.


Stage at Central Avenue Jazz Festival, South Los Angeles, California

At the time, the Dunbar Hotel featured a night club called the Club Alabam where various jazz greats would play after hours. During this period of time, a vibrant scene of jazz clubs, literary societies, and concert venues existed around Central Avenue. As such, this area nurtured an atmosphere of cultural energy for talented African-Americans. It is this cultural richness that the Central Jazz Festival seeks to pay homage to and promulgate amongst enthusiasts and spectators.

Today the cultural influence of jazz and blues continues to be alive along Central Avenue via the annual celebration of the Central Avenue Jazz Festival.  In addition, this event has come to represent an opportunity to introduce and expose other sounds and rhythms to attendees.  The addition of other musical elements not only further enriches the experience of those present but it is also serves as an indicator of how music and this community have evolved with the passage of time.

How does your community make use of space to bring members of the community together? How does your community celebrate its cultural history? 

Credits: Image #1 linked to source; Image #2 by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes.  Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in January 2016. H/T The Global Grid


Plans to Revitalize Los Angeles’ Jordan Downs now in Jeopardy over Federal Money


Jordan Downs Public Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles, California

In March of 2014, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) learned that it would not receive a $30-million Choice Neighborhoods federal grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The decision represented a setback in the revitalization of the Jordan Downs housing project. It also was the cause of concern among some residents who, in the past, have experienced disillusionment when proposals to transform Jordan Downs have fallen apart. However, there is hope from the developers that funding for the project will come from other sources.

Jordan Downs is a 714-unit public housing project located in Watts, California. It was named after long-time residents of the area, David Starr Jordan and Samuel Elliot Downs. The premises consist of 103 buildings that range in size from one to five bedrooms. Owned and managed by HACLA, the apartment complex was originally built as semi-permanent housing for war workers during World War II. However, in the early 1950s, HACLA converted the dwellings into public housing.


Jordan Downs Public Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles, California

Plans to revitalize Jordan Downs began in the fall of 2008 when HACLA and the City of Los Angeles issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) and Request for Qualifications (RFQ) package for the redevelopment of the apartment complex. City officials also made it clear that they sought to create a “vibrant urban village that is sustainable, mixed-used, mixed-income community that includes green development and encompasses all the amenities that enable communities to ‘sustain’ over the long term.” That same year, HACLA acquired a nearby 21-acre piece of land for $31 million. The purchase serves as an indicator of their intent to expand upon the existing housing project.

It is envisioned that this $700 million multi-phase redevelopment project will replace the existing 714 public housing apartments and add up to 1,400 affordable and market-rate homes. Furthermore, the urban village will include neighborhood-serving retail, community centers, and parks. The plan also proposes the development of a comprehensive Human Capital Plan to provide family support, job training, and community programs for residents to move forward toward self-sufficiency. Collaborating in this vision is a private development team hired by city officials, the for-profit Michaels Organization and the non-profit Bridge Housing. The retail component of the proposed project will be undertaken by Primestor Development Inc., a Los Angeles company known for working in underserved areas.


Jordan Downs Public Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles, California

Today, plans to move forward with the proposed project continue. However, HACLA and its team will have to address some concerns that have been conveyed by local residents, advocacy groups, and other interested stakeholders. Among these are:

  • Secure funding that will enable the revitalization of Jordan Downs housing project;
  • Confirm that there is no contamination of the soil in the proposed site or sites adjacent to the proposed project given the history of heavy industrialization in the area;
  • Ensure that existing residents are not displaced as a result of this redevelopment project;
  • Implement the proposed Human Capital Plan;
  • Attract investment into the community;
  • Continue to decrease the crime rates in the Jordan Downs.

What redevelopment initiative has served as a catalyst for revitalizing your community into an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable neighborhood? How have local officials in your community addressed financing challenges in publicly funded projects?

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes. Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in August 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Will Metro’s TOD Projects Gentrify Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles?


Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California

In December of 2013, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) issued separate Request for Proposals (RFPs) for three Metro-owned sites in Boyle Heights. Since then, Metro has announced several transit-oriented development projects by the Gold Line stations. Specifically, these are the Mariachi Plaza Commercial Development, The Santa Cecilia Apartments, Las Mariposas Apartments, Los Tulipanes Apartments, and the Chavez/Soto Mixed-Use project, all of which are near the Mariachi Plaza or Soto stations. This means new space for retail, medical offices, affordable housing, and parking in the area.

The Mariachi Plaza Commercial Development is one of the projects that Metro hopes will attract more riders to the area. This proposed $49-million project will consist of two structures:

  • A three-story building with a gym, restaurants, and shops;
  • An eight-story building with six levels of parking and two floors of medical offices

The proposed development would result in the demolition of several small businesses, such as J&F Ice Cream, Santa Cecilia Restaurant, and Libros Schimbros. Furthermore, it already presents a dramatic transformation of Mariachi Plaza, a public space that has served as a gathering place for musicians since the 1930s and is considered a cultural icon by many of its residents.

In response, the community of Boyle Heights has expressed their discontent and disappointment at the lack of inclusion in the planning process. They have vocalized that as proposed, this project is not taking account their needs, culture, and current socio-economic situation. Many residents fear that said construction will only lead to higher rents and consequently displace those who cannot afford to pay said increases. In fact, some have already stated that rents are going up in Boyle Heights.


Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California

In addition to holding community meetings, Metro could also do the following to gain the trust of local residents and come to a compromise that would benefit all of those involved:

  • Form partnerships with local community-based organizations to participate in the planning process of the proposed project and form a community advisory board.
  • Schedule charrettes meetings in which municipal officials, developers, community-based organizations, and residents participate and partake in the creation of joint solutions to the proposed project.
  • A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to address any remaining differences between the residents and developer.

Back in February [2015], Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning, Jenna Hornstock, acknowledged at a community meeting that the agency had made a mistake by excluding the residents of Boyle Heights from the planning process. She stated that it would start over, request new development proposals, and make the process more inclusive. However, it is uncertain if Metro will achieve this when there is great discontent among the residents and concerned that their neighborhood may become gentrified.

Are there any indicators that gentrification is taking place in your neighborhood? How has your community’s capacity to organize benefited the sustainable development of your community? 

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes. Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in July 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Is Inglewood, California the Next City to Have a New NFL Stadium?



Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California

The last time Los Angeles had a football team was in 1994, when both the Raiders and Rams called it their home. Since then, proposals for a team have come and gone. One of the key factors for alluring a professional team is the venue. Recent proposals for the construction of a new stadium have included the locations of downtown Los Angeles, Inglewood, and Carson. At the time of this writing, the proposed stadium project, Farmers Field, in downtown Los Angeles will not be moving forward, thereby making the proposed projects in Inglewood and Carson the most promising options.

Dubbed as the “City Champions Revitalization Project,” Stan Kroenke’s proposed Inglewood complex includes an 80,000-seat stadium with 9,000 parking spaces. After purchasing the sixty acres last year, Kroenke envisions the project to be “the world’s most interactive and integrated football stadium, a futuristic, $1.86-billion, privately financed venue proposed for the Hollywood Park site in Inglewood.” What distinguishes this project from the rest is its place in a heavy retail-entertainment redevelopment that would include an additional performance venue along with retail, office, hotel, and residential space. Thus far, Kroenke’s proposed project seems very promising, as it already has a committed team (St. Louis Rams), it has managed to bypass a lengthy environmental review and possible legal challenges, and it was approved back in February 2015 by the Inglewood City Council with a 5-0 vote. If the proposed project continues as planned, it is anticipated that the stadium will be completed by 2018.


Inglewood Forum in Inglewood, California

Design features of the proposed stadium include:

  • A huge, snail-shaped clear roof that can be used “to create the world’s biggest billboard,” visible to the millions of travelers flying in and out of Los Angeles annually.
  • Built to accommodate two teams, the stadium will have two home locker rooms, identical sets of office space, and two owners’ suites.
  • Four-sided design allows the venue to be accessed by the public from 360 degrees.
  • Built below ground level to comply with height restrictions imposed on buildings within LAX flight path.

Supporters of the project argue that this will generate more than 10,000 jobs and new tax revenue to the city. However, there is concern from union labor leaders who are worried that developers will not keep their promise of bringing “good jobs” to Inglewood, as the latter has so far refused to officially commit to hiring union workers to build and operate the stadium. In response, unions have been quietly gathering petition signatures in Inglewood that could lead to a local vote on the plan, which could potentially override the City Council’s vote and delay the construction of the proposed project. Alternatively, this point of contention may be addressed through the creation of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which will serve as a tool that would contribute to the improvement of the sustainable economic development of Inglewood.

What types of public-private partnerships arrangements and/or agreements have proved beneficial to the sustainable economic development of your community? How has the public sector attracted private investment in your community? 

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in July 2015. H/T The Global Grid