How ELACC Fights Gentrification And Empowers Students

When money poured into construction of the Metro Gold Line cutting across Boyle Heights, residents were concerned that the land around it — housing, laundromats and other small retail — would be lost and what replaced it would not meet the needs of the community. The neighborhood organized, marched and pressed Metro to become more involved in the planning of the empty lots.

Although the Gold Line extension into Boyle Heights started in 2006, it’s a story of gentrification continues to play out in Los Angeles and numerous cities throughout America.

East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), a neighborhood-based development organization focusing on social and economic justice, was at the center of the organizing efforts during the Gold Line construction — creating community-driven campaigns and proposals.

“We went from hearing from Metro that there wouldn’t be affordable housing to now every single lot that Metro owns in Boyle Heights already has or will have affordable housing,” said Isela Gracian, ELACC president.

Almost 25 years ago, an urban planner, attorney, community organizer and real estate developer — all from Eastside LA — created ELACC to advocate for community real estate, organizing and wealth building. They anchor their work in Boyle Heights and extend their services city wide. Other than campaigns, ELACC’s services include, but are not limited to, counseling for first-time homebuyers and foreclosure prevention, a monthly food pantry, and educational programs for youth and adults.

Beyond the Gold Line, ELACC is continuing their work to combat displacement using three models: developing affordable rental housing, pushing for community-owned land trusts with the Tierra Libre cooperative and collaborating with two allies (Inclusive Action for the City and Little Tokyo Service Center) on providing affordable commercial space.

Gracian knew she wanted to be a part of something that changed the wrong in the world from a young age. She was fortunate to have parents who were homeowners and provided stability in housing and community that she said were important to her success.

“I saw my parents work hard and we had everything that we needed,” said Gracian. “I remember thinking, around elementary school, that a lot of people around us also worked very hard and yet were struggling to have food, a home, a life of dignity. Something was off.”

She had plans to apply to law school to become an immigration lawyer as she was finishing up her degree at UC Davis. But after volunteering as an organizer at ELACC and learning about the history of land use and ownership, such as redlining, she decided to take on staff roles in the organization.

She was fueled by “the work to bring people together knowing that the system was created by humans and its humans who have to change it,” said Gracian.

One of the ways ELACC moves to change systems is through informing and empowering those affected by it or what they call power-building. During a leadership workshop using Teatro Campesino (an acting exercise in which participants act out problems and solutions on a stage), Margarita, a senior resident about 60 years old, participated and invited her family to watch.

Margarita was shy to the point where she wouldn’t introduce herself in small groups. But a few weeks after the play, she gave testimony in front of the Metro board during the Gold Line campaigning.

“That moment was really inspiring to me and helped cultivate this sense of knowing that anyone spending time working with ELACC will never engage in the world the same way as before they walked in our doors,” said Gracian.

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