Telltale Signs You Might be Hobnobbing with a Gentrifier

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-At the height of the previous anti-Russian cold war, roughhewn anti-Communists, like J. Edgar Hoover, wrote long forgotten tracts, like his masterpiece, Masters of Deceit. He told “real Americans” about telltale signs that slick-talking liberals sneaking into their circle of friends might really be clandestine Reds. Picking up his theme, in 1949 RKO Studios produced I Married a Communist, but it was such a dud that the studio renamed the film, The Woman on Pier 13.   A half-century later, acclaimed writer Phillip Roth wrote a sarcastic novel with the same name, “I Married a Communist.”  

Learning from J. Edgar Hoover and Phillip Roth, I am now ready to share some tips about the telltale signs of clandestine gentrifiers who you might unknowingly hobnob with. Here is my list of what you should be on the lookout for. And, don’t be fooled, the gentrifiers are not only shady real estate developers driving expensive German cars. They also can take on the form of the slick-talking liberals Hoover warned us about, plus academic researchers, journalists, well compensated political consultants, elected officials, and YIMBY’s.   [Editor’s note: This article about YIMBYs by Zelda Bronstein is published in the current issue of CityWatch.] 

But regardless of what form they take, the gentrifiers have these telltale signs, so be on your toes whenever you encounter the following: 

  • Shadowy gentrifiers invoke trickle-down economic theories to promote their own real estate deals, while bemoaning the same supply-side, neo-liberal notions that Trump and Congressional Republicans rely on to defend their tax cuts for the super rich. 
  • Secret gentrifiers claim that anyone who moves into a new, expensive apartment a half-mile from a subway or bus stop will become a mass transit rider. When pressed for evidence that the well-off will ditch their new cars for a 15-minute walk to a bus stop or subway station, they have been known to invoke a wonderful legislative loophole: Transit Priority Areas.  
  • Clandestine gentrifiers routinely call for increased density on privately owned parcels suitable for their lucrative real estate investments, regardless of the City’s legally adopted plans. 
  • Closeted gentrifiers, however, never offer to pay for improved public services and public infrastructure near luxury real estate projects. They are real tight wads when it comes to funding expanded street capacity, parks, recreation centers, schools, libraries, water, electricity, and other public services for their projects. 
  • Surreptitious gentrifiers, along with the City of Los Angeles, never field check completed apartment projects to confirm that committed affordable units are actually rented out at-substantially below market rates. 
  • Covert gentrifiers also never undertake on-site apartment inspections to verify that qualified low-income tenants live in these same affordable units. 
  • Undercover gentrifiers never monitor their own real estate projects to check their lavish promises to decision makers of new jobs and transit ridership. 
  • Concealed gentrifiers never propose that the City of Los Angeles departments monitor discretionary projects to certify claims they will generate new jobs and soaring transit ridership. 
  • Hidden gentrifiers assert that expensive apartment projects produce affordable housing through filtering, but when asked where this is happening in Los Angeles, they never answer the question. 
  • Veiled gentrifiers routinely claim that new, market-rate apartments cause the rents of older apartments to decline through supply-and-demand, but when asked where this is happening in our fair city, they pivot back to the same mantra. 
  • Secretive gentrifiers never complain that the City Hall decision-makers who approve speculative real estate projects neglect to enforce their own conditions of approval. 
  • Adept gentrifiers ignore City Planning’s and Building and Safety’s practice of never shutting down or demolishing real estate projects that conflict with the City’s zoning code, building code, or imposed conditions. 

The Takeaway: Is there a takeaway from these telltale signs about stealth gentrifiers who might patronize your favorite independent coffee roaster, use the same Uber at LAX, or shop at the same Whole Foods? 

Yes, like our local pols, mostly Democrats, they espouse big real estate's free market hogwash. Stripped of its pieties, we are left with, “If big developers can build what they want, where they want, and when they want, the result will be abundant affordable housing built though deregulation, filtering, and supply-and-demand.” 

In my view this is self-serving nonsense, no different than Republican Senators, Representatives, and the White House claiming that when the rich get richer through elaborate tax breaks, everyone will benefit as the one  percent's  increased wealth trickles down. In LA the rich are definitely getting richer through real estate speculation abetted by the City Council, but the result is a housing crisis fueled by gentrification, not a cornucopia of new affordable housing.


(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on local planning controversies for CityWatchLA.  Please send any comments or corrections to Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.