Listen to the new episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” on a Los Angeles Times investigation on how new freeways continue to disproportionately impact Black and Latino neighborhoods.
Black families bore the primary brunt of displacement when their neighborhoods were razed to make way for the U.S. interstate highway system half a century ago.
Transportation officials, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttegieg, are increasingly recognizing those harms and attempting to atone for them.
So why is it still happening?
An investigation published by the Los Angeles Times last week unearthed the displacement of more than 6,300 families in the 22 biggest highway expansion projects in the last 30 years, which took place in California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Mississippi.
The analysis found that two-thirds of displacements were in projects disproportionately affecting Black and Latino neighborhoods.
In the latest episode of the California Housing Crisis Podcast, The Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon and CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias discuss the results of this investigation, conducted by Liam and his colleague, Ben Poston.
Manuela and Liam interview Alexandria Contreras, a 27-year-old activist who grew up blocks away from Interstate 5 in Downey, in southeastern L.A. County. The house is now in danger of being torn down to make place for the expansion of that highway.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Contreras family was affected by freeway construction. Contreras’ great-grandparents’ home was near the building of the 101 Freeway in Boyle Heights 60 years ago, and their grandparents’ home was taken during construction of the LA Metro.
“This is something I’m not facing by myself,” Contreras said. “These are dozens of families that have watched their homes be taken away, who have watched their children’s homes be taken away. It’s really frustrating to see it play out again and again and again.”
Unlike previous generations whose homes were torn down to make way for highways, those who are displaced today are compensated for the value of their home, and sometimes more, as Dillon explains. But Contreras says expecting any amount of money to make up for the displacement during California’s housing crisis is “incredibly cruel.”
“Where is everyone supposed to go?” Contreras asks. “How can you monetize the human dignity that comes with living in your community and living in your house?”
Legislators are talking a lot about equity in housing, and could help more Black families buy their own homes. But advocates say lawmakers are failing to confront racial equity in many other ways.