This is a defining time for South Los Angeles. This week, I joined U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti, along with other elected officials from the federal and local level, to announce that South LA had received a federal Promise Zone designation.
As the representative of Council District 9, I’m thrilled that our community was awarded a Promise Zone not only because I have spent the past two years fighting for this designation, but more importantly, because our neighborhoods will finally receive priority access to federal money needed to properly address the region’s 46 percent poverty rate.
Through the Promise Zone Initiative, the federal government will work strategically with local leaders to spur economic activity and job growth, improve educational opportunities, reduce crime and leverage private investment to improve the quality of life for residents of underserved communities like South LA.
The new South LA Promise Zone is home to nearly 198,000 residents and includes portions of neighborhoods of Vernon-Central, South Park, Florence, Exposition Park, Vermont Square, Leimert Park, and Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw.
The winning application was submitted by a diverse collaborative made up of local institutions and non-profits committed to reducing the rates of poverty for several of the most economically depressed communities within the city. The coalition became known as South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) to capitalize on compelling opportunities that new light rail lines bring for neighborhood revitalization, as well as connecting residents to education and economic opportunities.
“The Obama Administration believes in your vision. We believe in your potential. We believe in your community, and we are here to help. SLATE-Z has been selected to be part of the President's Promise Zone Initiative, and we will help bring your plans to life,” the Deputy Secretary said during the official announcement on June 6, 2016 in front of throngs of community partners, residents and students at Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC).
Why is this designation so important? Because all Promise Zones receive priority access to federal investments that further their strategic plans to help residents in a targeted area thrive and prosper. Promise Zones have an advantage in applying for grants, as well as special access to federal employees who act as liaisons, helping to navigate through federal bureaucracy.
As a result, we can expect greater resources to serve this ethnically diverse population. For example, students at the 11 comprehensive high schools in SLATE-Z, including five in the Ninth District, will receive increased support to prepare for colleges and careers. The SLATE-Z coalition also plans to tackle the 12 percent unemployment rate and under-employment to move more residents into living-wage jobs and career pathways.
The victory was especially sweet because South LA had been twice denied the opportunity to benefit from this anti-poverty program. The first time, in 2014, I was furious. But rather than throw my hands in the air and say, “Oh, well. Too bad.” I decided to bring together dozens of key leaders across sectors to turn our shared frustration into collective action.
One of my first phone calls was to Larry Frank, President of LATTC, which became the lead agency. We subsequently convened a series of meetings with community leaders and advocates. Before we knew it, we were making history. Forming a collaborative structure unlike anything before— groups who typically compete for funding suddenly started working side by side, tackling the root causes of inequality and poverty in South LA.
In 2015, we received more bad news and learned that we were excluded from a second round of designations. Still, we did not let this deter us. We continued to work together over the last year to leverage the strengths and resources of our partners, and we refined our application. And as they say, the third time is the charm.
I want to personally thank all of the community partners who joined me at the table two years ago. We went in with a clear mission to improve the lives of our brothers and sisters in need.
Thanks to our partners’ efforts, we now have another powerful tool to rewrite the South LA story. To create the future we want for our children and their children. The kind where one’s zip code or skin color, does not determine the benefits or burden we bear.
I am proud to celebrate this day with our partners, including: (partial list) Brotherhood Crusade, City of Los Angeles, Coalition for Responsible Community Development, Community Coalition, CD Tech, LA Chamber of Commerce, LA Urban League, LA’s Promise, Los Angeles Unified School District, Move LA, Cal State Dominguez Hills, UCLA, and University of Southern California – among others. The collaborative work of the partnership was made possible with funding support from (listed alphabetically) the California Endowment, LA n Sync, Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, and Weingart Foundation.
I’m honored our partners and allies had so much faith in what we were trying and still are trying to accomplish, because the work is far from over.
Thank you, President Obama, for awarding SLATE-Z a Promise Zone. Yes, progress will happen here. Creation of living-wage jobs, quality education and career training, improved public safety, greater resources, and increased support. The time for South LA is now.
Curren D. Price, Jr.
Los Angeles City Council, Ninth District
Photos courtesy of Gus Ruelas/USC