Anti-poverty zone leaves out L.A.'s poorest

Written By kolimtiga on Senin, 07 April 2014 | 12.56

In January, President Obama announced a block-by-block approach to relieving poverty in Los Angeles. Federal money, he said, would pour into a newly created Promise Zone.

The boundaries encompassed crowded immigrant communities around MacArthur Park and Koreatown, as well as upscale areas of Hollywood and Los Feliz. Left out was South L.A., where the poverty rate is higher. The exclusion stunned many South L.A. leaders.

The strategy, presidential aides said, was to concentrate resources in communities where nonprofits or public agencies had already received one of the Obama administration's signature urban renewal grants.

INTERACTIVE: Promise Zone misses more poverty

Only those previously funded organizations were eligible to seek Promise Zone aid. In Los Angeles, there was only one such group: a nonprofit led by Dixon Slingerland, a major campaign fundraiser for Obama and frequent White House visitor.

Under rules set by the White House and federal agencies, Mayor Eric Garcetti's office, working with Slingerland's Youth Policy Institute, was required to draw the zone's boundaries around an area where the nonprofit already was focusing its federal grants — either Hollywood or the northeast San Fernando Valley.

The result was an anti-poverty zone that left out communities south of the 10 Freeway, including areas of chronic poverty that drew worldwide attention after the 1965 and 1992 riots. Neighborhoods around Watts have a poverty rate 21% higher than communities within the Promise Zone, according to a Times analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Neighborhoods east of USC have a poverty rate 39% higher.

U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, part of a Democratic political dynasty that has represented South L.A. since the 1940s, pointedly skipped the White House ceremony at which Obama announced L.A.'s selection.

"It just seems like those that have keep getting," Hahn said. "And those that never had don't even have a chance."

City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who represents part of South L.A., said Slingerland's political ties influenced the Promise Zone designation. "You know exactly why they came out first," he said. "It was preordained."

Slingerland disputed that. In an interview in his Hollywood office, he said he did not try to influence the Promise Zone eligibility criteria and that his campaign fundraising was irrelevant.

"It doesn't help a darn bit," he said.

Nationwide, 31 urban and rural areas applied for Promise Zones. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said merit and the program's policy goals determined which applicants won.

"Some of the areas selected ... were backed by our political supporters, and some were backed by our most fervent political opponents," he said of the five zones designated so far, including rural areas of Kentucky and Oklahoma. "But all of them have developed strong plans to create jobs, provide quality, affordable housing and expand educational opportunity."

Promise Zones will receive priority in distribution of a range of federal grants, though the total amount L.A. will collect is uncertain.

The eligibility rules were intended to ensure that the program took advantage of progress already made in communities where public agencies and nonprofits have worked closely to combat poverty, the White House said. The idea was to measure the results and apply the lessons learned to impoverished communities nationwide.

Benjamin Torres, who runs the Community Development Technologies Center, a South L.A. nonprofit, said he understood the thinking behind the eligibility criteria. But he said they were "problematic" because they excluded too many impoverished communities.

For future Promise Zone applicants, the eligibility restrictions will be lifted.

Slingerland raised more than $743,000 for Obama in the last two presidential elections, according to internal campaign documents cited by the New York Times in a 2012 report on the president's biggest fundraisers.

Since Obama took office, Slingerland has been to the White House 19 times, logs show. The visits included one to the residence for a reception, three to the West Wing and 10 to the Old Executive Office Building. He attended two receptions at Vice President Joe Biden's home at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

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