Los Angeles’s history is one of both ethnic diversity and
segregation. Founded as an outpost of New Spain in 1781 and incorporated
as a city in 1850 after the annexation of California to the US,
it did not attract many residents until the railroad reached it
in 1876. Ethnic minorities who worked as railroad labourers were
part of an imported underclass who lived in segregated residential
areas. From around 1900, the Los Angeles port at San Pedro began
to gain in significance, setting the stage for poor port workers
settling in the harbour area. By 1945, Los Angeles (LA) had assumed
great economic prominence and witnessed commensurate demographic
growth. Much of the housing stock was, however, recorded with restrictive
ethnic covenants, providing a framework for enduring ethnic segregation.
This was compounded by:
lending and federal subsidy practices that increased the racial
segregation in the metropolis, at large, and in the inner-city areas,
in public transport that virtually isolated the poor; and
plant closings that diminished economic opportunities for residents
of low-income areas of the city.
Ultimately, this history of segregation contributed to the conditions
that led to the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest – the largest
urban uprising ever in the US. The city does not officially use
the word ‘slum’. However, Los Angeles slums exist both
as individual buildings and as disinvested neighbourhoods, encompassing
20 per cent of the LA area and some 43 per cent of the population.
These slums share the following general characteristics:
physical housing conditions.
levels of resident income.
levels of private investment and property maintenance.
High-density disinvested areas:
this generally consists of pre-1930s, brick construction tenement-style
housing stock with poor light and air circulation and located near
the inner city.
Mid-density disinvested areas:
this mostly consists of post-World War II, poorly constructed and/or
maintained multifamily dwellings, scattered over each section of
Low-density disinvested areas:
these are mostly single family housing units and low-cost expansions
of liveable space, often garage dwellings. Nearly half of the residents
of slum neighbourhoods live in low-density areas, reflecting the
high proportion of single-family dwellings in the city.
Mixed-density disinvested areas:
these areas comprise a mix of the above densities within the same
Los Angeles is distinctive from most US cities in housing tenure
as the majority of its residents are tenants, with less than 40
per cent of households owning their homes. In all disinvested areas,
the vast majority of slum dwellers are renters: high density comprise
92.8 per cent; mid density comprise 85.5 per cent; low density comprise
62.2 per cent; and mixed density comprise 83.8 per cent.
In the wake of the urban unrest of the 1990s, the migration of wealthy
and white residents from Los Angeles intensified, even though the
urban economy rebounded during the late 1990s. Poverty, however,
did not decline, as employment was largely low-wage employment and
a steady stream of immigrants occupies these low-paying jobs. With
rents rising sharply and low-income residents choosing overcrowding
rather than homelessness, residential structures are increasingly
deteriorating and decaying. The growth in poverty during the coming
decades is, therefore, as likely to continue as the growth of disinvested
urban areas in Los Angeles.The residents of LA’s disinvested
areas are overwhelmingly (two-thirds) Latino, with African Americans
the second largest group (one fifth), followed by Asian/Pacific
Islanders (one tenth) and a small Caucasian population group. A
long history of civil unrest and violent urban riots is an expression
of frustration with the slow improvement of race relations and lack
of equal access to economic opportunities. The largest urban uprising
in the US took place in Los Angeles and was centred in the disinvested
communities; it was very noticeable in areas of the city that lack
employment opportunities, adequate retail services and adequate
and affordable housing.
There are three categories of policy intervention and action to
improve slums and alleviate poverty:
Locational targeting, made up of national, regional
and city policies and programmes to eradicate or upgrade slums.
Socio-economic targeting, consisting of national,
regional and city policies and programmes to eradicate and alleviate
3 Nongovernmental interventions, consisting of community-
and NGO-based programmes to improve slums and eradicate/alleviate
Due to the economic segregation within Los Angeles, locational targeting
of housing and community development programmes that focus on low-income
areas and low-income households typically reach the same groups.
Socio-economic targeting provides combinations of targeted tax benefits,low-interest
loans and some grants to support neighbourhood revitalization efforts.
Non-governmental and community-based interventions roughly come
in two groups: the consumer side (tenants organizations, advocacy
groups) and housing producers (non-profit developers, community
Considerable impacts have been made during the past half decade,
resulting from partnerships in the development and implementation
stages of new slum housing policies. Largely as the result of pressure
from community leaders and political activists, the LA local authorities
revamped their building code enforcement in the city through better
inspection, collection and data management of the city’s rental
housing stock. As a result of these new tools and increased transparency
of information, approximately 90 per cent of landlords are now complying
with repair requirements, and an estimated US$450 million of private
funding has been invested in housing in the disinvested areas of
the city over the past four years.
has been extracted from:
UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge
of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies',