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Restaurants tackle gentrification and displacement in low-income areas

A study showed that gentrification mostly affects people of color.
Fighting displacement in neighborhoods
Posted at 2:58 PM, Feb 21, 2022

LOS ANGELES — New development in low-income neighborhoods across the country is pricing out some who have been there for years.

Now businesses owners and advocates are adjusting to battle gentrification and displacement.

“You’ve seen a lot more market-rate expensive developments,” said Grant Sunoo, with the Little Tokyo Service Center.

“People want to live here, and prices go up, consequently a lot of speculation has started to displace folks and a lot of communities of color that have been established here in 100 plus years.”

New development can sometimes be good for lower-income areas, but sometimes it leads to gentrification.

“I think if by virtue your development you are starting is starting to displace people and creating a condition where existing business or residents can’t afford to live in an area, that’s where development crosses the line into gentrification,” Sunoo said.

According to a study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, gentrification and cultural displacement are problems in large cities that have low-income areas viewed as "opportunity zones" for businesses.

The study showed that cities with gentrification opportunity zones had 68% people of color.

“I always thought it would be possible for me to purchase here, and right now it’s not,” sajd Mia Keeling, the owner of Simply Wholesome a health and wellness grocery store and restaurant located in a community called Windsor Hills in Los Angeles.

Restaurant owners like Keeling are coming together to combat gentrification and displacement issues.

Keeling’s business has been in the area for 38 years.

“We do other ways of inspiring our staff to encourage them to recycle their dollars in the community, and we have partnerships with small businesses,” Keeling said.

“But keeping culture through our food and business here is important for this community.”

Uyên Lê, chef and owner of the Vietnamese restaurant Bé Ù located between Silver Lake and Wilshire Center in Los Angeles, opened her restaurant a year ago.

“I got into wanting to open up a restaurant to address a lot of inequalities in our system,” Lê said.

“I start out all my staff at $18 an hour, and I try to hire locally as much as possible. A lot of people I employ grew up within just a few miles of here. I have one employee that lives behind this restaurant, so I think it’s good to create the economic opportunism for folks. I try to keep the prices as affordable as I can so that folks maybe on minimum wage or fixed incomes can come here multiple times a week that can get fresh and favorable food and it won’t price people out and I wanted to create a sense of belonging.”

Organizations like the Little Tokyo Service Center are trying to push for a government approach to keep cultural businesses and residents from being priced out and displaced.

“I think what we want to see is some sort of program where a business has been operating for a certain amount of years would qualify for different benefits that would enable them to make their rent and sustain their business and thrive,” said An Le with the Little Tokyo Service Center.