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With Sports Teams Flooding Inglewood, Is It a Choice Between Poverty or Gentrification?

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff at stadium in inglewood

Fearing that the construction of a Los Angeles Clippers arena on public land in their community would result in the gentrification of their neighborhoods, a group in Inglewood, Calif., filed suit in June to stop the project. Two months later, one of the top names in California politics has joined their movement.

“Our city has been moving in the wrong direction,” said Woodrow Curry III, a member of the group that filed suit, the Uplift Inglewood Coalition. Curry also told Curbed Los Angeles that Inglewood City Hall favored “billionaire sports owners” over the community’s residents who struggle to afford apartment rent and pay their mortgages.

Inglewood, in the southwestern corner of Los Angeles County, Calif., is a city of renters. African-Americans account for 46 percent of the city’s population; Latinos make up another 46 percent. Only five percent of the more than 109,000 people who live in Inglewood are white. About 18 percent of the city’s residents have incomes below the poverty line.

But a new day is dawning for Inglewood.

The Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise wants to break ground for the arena right across the street from where an NFL stadium is being built for the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers. Next door to the football stadium a brand-new neighborhood is planned, including 3,000 houses, business offices, stores, restaurants, and even a manmade lake.

And now, Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer wants to construct an arena, team offices and a training facility on 22 acres of mostly public land.

When Uplift Inglewood Coalition members tried to serve the Inglewood City Council with their lawsuit at a June meeting, Mayor James Butts quickly adjourned the meeting.

“This, to me, changes the center of gravity in Los Angeles County to Inglewood,” Mayor Butts said when the Rams project was proposed last year.

“We have seen home values rise and both unemployment and crime drop,” Butts added. “Billions of dollars are coming to Inglewood, and our community is thriving like never before.”

However, one year later, former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) is promising to help Uplift Inglewood fight the Clippers project.

“If the arena is built, this community will change overnight,” Boxer said. “Many rich guys have a dream to own a sports team. That’s fine, except if the dream turns into a nightmare for the community. So I say to Mr. Ballmer, ‘Enjoy your team—but do not build your arena here.’”

Sixty-five percent of the people who call Inglewood home are renters. Only 35 percent own their homes. Housing costs climbed 25 percent since 2013, according to a Los Angeles County report. Fifty-six percent of Inglewood residents have to spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing costs. Nearly a third spend 50 percent or more of their take-home pay for rent or mortgage payments.

David Dang, who has lived in Inglewood since 2012, told the Courthouse News Service he’s afraid that once the Rams, Clippers and Chargers move in, there won’t be room for him and his neighbors.

“Pretty soon these stadiums will kick people out and bring in new people,” Dang said.

Last November, Los Angeles Times opinion writer Erin Aubry Kaplan warned, “Whites are moving back to Inglewood. There goes our neighborhood.”

“Gentrification is big news all over L.A., and working-class and lower-income people across the county stand to lose a lot from its advance. They already have,” Aubrey wrote. “But black people, in particular, will feel the sting. We will be out not just apartments and homes we can afford to rent or pay the mortgage on. We will lose our space, our place.”

Mayor Butts argued gentrification fears are misplaced because while real estate values have skyrocketed 137 percent since 2012, the price to rent an apartment or a house is still among the lowest in the South Bay region.

And don’t even get Butts started on employment. With the Rams’ Forum project 40 percent complete and Clippers owner Ballmer planning to begin building his arena soon, construction, and demand for workers, is booming.

Once as high as 17 percent, Inglewood’s unemployment rate has fallen by two-thirds to 5.5 percent.

Beyond the construction jobs, Butts said the Clippers project, just like the new NFL stadium and the new neighborhood planned for Inglewood, is all about “community pride.” His vision is to turn Inglewood into a place where children can grow up, go to college and find jobs without having to move away.

“We want them to rise economically but also lift up residents that have lived here,” Butts said.

But Gracie Sosa, who has lived in Inglewood since 1985 and works for the American Red Cross, told the L.A. Times, “It’s all about the money.”

"Let's just say it like it is. They're not thinking about how many people would lose their homes. I don't think our voices are heard. We're not billionaires. We're just residents of a not-so-great neighborhood,” Sosa added. “But it's our neighborhood.”