Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council member Curren D. Price Jr. celebrate the South L.A. Promise Zone. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)
By Matthew Kredell
South Los Angeles is about to get special opportunities to obtain federal funding for encouraging economic growth and alleviating poverty in the region. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced June 6 that Los Angeles has received an unprecedented second federal Promise Zone, this time in South L.A.
The Sol Price Center for Social Innovation at the USC Price School of Public Policy is again contributing to the effort as an academic partner, evaluating data to measure outcomes and assess impacts of the work done by the collaborative over the next 10 years.
“I think this will be transformative in a couple of ways,” said Professor Gary Painter, director of social policy for Price CSI. “This process already has led many organizations, who have served South L.A. for a long time, to sit down together and realize how they can collectively serve the region even better than they had been doing on an individual basis. That occurred before receiving the designation. Now, they will have the opportunity to collaborate in a greater way with resources from the federal government.”
“We are excited to support the South L.A. Promise Zone with research, data and evaluation and to help in any way that makes the effort more successful,” Painter added.
‘Defining moment’ for community
The Promise Zone is a federal program created by President Barack Obama through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2012 with the goal of addressing challenges in geographic areas of deep and persistent poverty. The award provides technical assistance and priority access to certain federal funding opportunities, which will bring greater resources to serve South L.A. residents — 46 percent of whom live below the federal poverty line.
The new South L.A. Promise Zone – which includes USC’s University Park Campus – is home to nearly 198,000 residents in parts of Vernon-Central, South Park, Florence, Exposition Park, Vermont Square, Leimert Park, and the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhoods. Coalition partners who developed the vision, goals and activities laid out in the winning application call it the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) because they seek to capitalize on compelling opportunities that new light rail lines bring for neighborhood revitalization as well as connecting residents to education and economic opportunities.
South L.A. was not eligible to apply for the first round of Promise Zone designations because it had not received a prior urban renewal grant from the Obama Administration. A collection of 54 South L.A. partners worked for two years to develop a common vision and successfully advocate for changes to the HUD requirements.
Along with the USC Price Center for Social Innovation, other areas of USC collaborating on SLATE-Z include the Dornsife Program on Environmental and Regional Equity, the Center for Urban Education, and Minority Business Development Agency LA.
“A phenomenal coalition of community partners worked tirelessly to get us to this day. The Promise Zone designation will help build on the incredible things already happening in South Los Angeles,” noted L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement. “This will bring new resources, energy, and urgency into our movement to expand opportunity in all of L.A.’s neighborhoods.”
Congresswomen Karen Bass and Lucille Roybal-Allard, as well as Los Angeles City Council members Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price, Jr., also pushed for South L.A. to receive the designation.
“This is defining moment for South Los Angeles,” Price commented in a statement. “Now, we have another tool to rewrite the South L.A. story and create the future we want for our children. The kind where one’s zip code or skin color does not determine the benefits or burden we bear.”
Presently, the South L.A. community faces a 12 percent unemployment rate. In addition, 52 percent of residents older than 25 never graduated from high school, and only nine percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Goals of the SLATE-Z partnership include increasing economic activity in South L.A. by investing businesses, entrepreneurs and community-oriented infrastructure; moving more residents into living-wage jobs and career pathways; reducing violent crime by improving services for youth leadership development, gang intervention, support for youth and adults re-entering the community from incarceration, and community engagement; and making it safer and more affordable for residents to use public transit and walk the streets.
The existing L.A. Promise Zone – which includes parts of Hollywood, East Hollywood, Koreatown and Pico-Union – has received more than $100 million in grants since its designation in 2014. Painter believes that the USC Price Center for Social Innovation’s experience with developing a comprehensive evaluation plan for the first L.A. Promise Zone will help galvanize the efforts South L.A.
Painter also foresees that being the only city with two designations within its boundaries will be beneficial to both areas.
“Having both here in L.A. really has the potential to be catalytic,” Painter said. “The chance to compare strategies across zones is going to be compelling to attract resources from foundations, helping the City of L.A. more broadly capitalize on its resources and power of community.”