Is a bike tour through West Adams a sign of gentrification?
September 12 – As riders pedal through the streets of West Adams on Sunday afternoon, a tour guide points to homes on the market, listing the price tags and bedroom and bathroom counts. There was the occasional wave to residents lounging in their front yards. A young woman hosting a yard sale of purses, shirts, and other random items shouted to riders to buy from her collection.
“West Adams is selling fast,” says the guide, real estate agent Jose Prats, while rolling down West Adams Boulevard.
The bike tour’s meeting point was at Adopt A Bike, a bicycle repair shop that Prats owns in an alley off Washington Boulevard in Mid-City. Prats had laid out a plan for the tour that he led and organized: Stop at an art gallery, coffee shops, restaurants, a recreation center, yoga studio, and several homes for sale—including one of the three that he has flipped. All of the stops were in West Adams, a historically black neighborhood with grand old homes.
Prats, who lives in nearby Leimert Park, another historic black neighborhood in South LA, advertised the bike ride by posting a flyer on Instagram. The flyer invited those curious about West Adams to “tag along for the ride and get a local agent’s perspective on this growing neighborhood.”
The response, Prats said, was “overwhelmingly positive.”
The seven people who showed up to the tour had either bought bikes from Prats in the past, or were locals, such as Sharon Houston, who just wanted to go for a ride and learn about the neighborhood.
Houston, who lives near Larchmont Village, doesn’t plan to relocate to West Adams. She joined the tour because she said she loves biking and thought it would be fun to learn about the community from a local real estate agent. “It’s very multicultural. There’s a lot of art here and a lot of the people that have lived here have lived here for forever, which is nice,” she said.
Prats showed off some of the neighborhood’s new eateries—including Alta Adams, Mizlala, and Adams Coffee Shop—and visited older ones described as local favorites, such as Vees Cafe, Delicious Pizza, Normandie Bakery, and Taqueria Los Anaya.
“Wow, this area has gotten bougie,” one rider commented.
Plans for development in the area have picked up in the last few years. A giant retail and residential development called Cumulus is slated to open by late 2020 and will include a 30-story tower and a Whole Foods Market. Developer CIM Group also has a couple projects in the works, including ones that would bring more shops, housing, and a hotel.
Simultaneously, home prices and values in the neighborhood have shot up. The median home price in West Adams jumped 9 percent in the last year, according to Zillow, and now stands at $718,600. That’s $100,000 higher than the countywide median of $618,000.
Prats obtained his real estate license in 2010 and worked with an investor in West Adams, going door to door through the neighborhood to find homes to sell. “That’s how I really got to know the neighborhood,” he says.
Eventually, he purchased his first family home and “lived in it, fixed it and it was an adventure, but it went well and we resold it,” he said. “We got another [home] and that’s what we have. We just try to fix things, I guess. Right? From bikes to houses.”
That home was among the many bike tour stops in front of houses on the market or under construction. Prats told riders that he bought the home for $395,000—and sold it for $767,000. “I don’t really use the word ‘flip,’ because it has a bad name to it,” he said.
When Prats moved to West Adams four years ago, he said his neighbors were really welcoming. “Whenever you fix up a house, the neighbors are happy, because you’re lifting their values up,” he said.
But some of his clients have brought up the topic of gentrification, asking questions like: “‘Are people going to be aggressive, because I’m buying a really expensive house in this area? Am I a target or anything?’ And I tell them for the most part from my experience, no.”
Josef Siroky has lived in West Adams for 23 years. He serves on the West Adams Neighborhood Council, and while he wasn’t aware of the tour, he said he has seen similar flyers in the past. The rising home values, he said, have been good for him and his family.
“My house has like tripled in value since [my parents] got it, so obviously, I’m seeing it through the way of like, hey, my house is worth something,” Siroky said.
But Jordan Cocom, who has lived in Jefferson Park, near West Adams, for 25 years, said he sees homes being remodeled on his street and worries that the improvements aren’t designed for longtime residents to enjoy.
“The good being the physical beautification of the area, but the bad is losing the cultural beauty of the community,” said Cocom, speaking by phone. “What happens when your own neighborhood goes from celebrating people who look like you to just tolerating you?”
Cocom also didn’t know about the bike tour but said meet-ups like it “feel like there are backdoor meetings going on to pull resources and knowledge to flip the community.”
The last stop on the tour was an art exhibit by Adele Renault, who had purchased a bike from Prats. The show, titled “West Adams,” is a portrait series of people from the community who she met after moving to the neighborhood last year. Included in the series is a hair salon owner who just retired, a mechanic from a local tire shop, a street fruit vendor, a homeless woman, and a local gardener.
Renault said she moved to West Adams because she loved that it felt like a community. While she was aware of how rapidly the neighborhood was changing, she says she wanted to celebrate residents who have lived there for so long.
“I really hope we can keep this neighborhood inclusive of all, and not push people out,” she says.
Ron Finley, the local gardener depicted in the series, was raised in South LA. Reached by phone after the tour, he said the neighborhood has a long history of gentrification that goes back to when black people weren’t legally allowed to buy homes in West Adams and many others places in Los Angeles in the first half of the 20th century.
“I have a problem with [gentrification], because we, as people of color, weren’t given the opportunity to own property,” he said.
Finley said one way that community members are fighting to keep and celebrate black culture in LA is with the Destination Crenshaw, a massive public art project that he’s involved with.
“A lot of people think that we are doing this for the people moving in, but it’s the opposite,” he says. “We want to leave a legacy of what black people have done in the city.”
Jessica Flores | LA Curbed