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Los Angeles Could Get $500 Million From Feds To Combat Poverty From Westlake To Hollywood

Birds flying over the Westlake Theatre in Westlake, one of the L.A. areas that will be receiving federal aid as part of the "Promise Zone" initiative (Photo by Eric Demarcq via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Los Angeles will be receiving millions in federal aid aimed at fighting poverty and improving the quality of life as part of the White House's "Promise Zone" initiative.

The "Promise Zone" includes the East Hollywood, Pico-Union/Westlake, Thai Town, Little Armenia and Koreatown areas, according to City News Service. Mayor Eric Garcetti calls these communities some of the "toughest, challenged areas" in the city, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The city could receive up to $500 million over 10 years and that federal aid would be used to improve education, affordable housing, public transportation, bike lanes and public safety. The theory behind the Promise Zone initiative is that disadvantaged communities that are truly struggling need multiple changes at once in order to pull itself out of its troubles. "You can't do one thing at a time," Harry Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University told MarketWatch.

Mayor Garcetti is in Washington, D.C. today for the White House event which will be naming the cities selected for the Promise Zones, which also include San Antonio, Philadelphia, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, according to City News Service. There will be 15 more communities that will be added to the initiative over the next three years, according to MarketWatch.

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President Barack Obama had talked about the initiative in his State of the Union address last year and this event coincides with the 50-year anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's start of his "War on Poverty." When the "War on Poverty" was launched in 1964, programs such as Head Start and SNAP (which was previously referred to as food stamps) were included, but have since experienced deep cuts, according to the Washington Post.

Brian Smedley, vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute at the D.C.-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, sees the Promise Zone initiative in a positive light. The Washington Post reported:

“Promise Zones gets the prescription right,” he says. “Past civil rights efforts such as the War on Poverty focused on helping individuals, but did not address the structural barriers to opportunity in neighborhoods where poor people of color live,” such as segregated and poor quality housing, the lack of capital and economic opportunity, inadequate schools, and transportation.

Just yesterday, the 2020 Commission's report on Los Angeles was released. It painted a grim picture of the city, writing that "Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward." It cited the poverty rate as a major concern for the city.

A study from the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality revealed in Sept. that Los Angeles had the highest poverty rate in California counties, according to the Los Angeles Times. Their data showed that 2.6 million (that's 27%, more than a quarter of our city's population!), of Los Angeles County residents lived in poverty in 2011.

The Rich Block, Poor Blocks website illustrates income disparity throughout Los Angeles using maps. The map below shows how the East Hollywood and Westlake areas are closer to the "$28,073 or less" median household income.

However, there are some who are skeptical about what the Promise Zone will really achieve. Christian Science Monitor's Elizabeth Barber says this initiative is "not new in method." She compares it to other similar initiatives such as the Clinton administration's empowerment zones and George H.W. Bush's enterprise zones. However, she notes, the results were never truly conclusive if the programs helped these cities. She writes:

Unless the promise zone initiative includes meticulous mechanisms for assessing its own successes and failures, experts say, it could be as difficult as ever to tell how much the new program helps the needy people for whom it is being launched.

UPDATE 3:40 p.m.: The Promise Zone initiative has received some backlash regarding which communities are included in the program. South L.A.-area City Councilman Curren Price said he was disappointed to see "the city's poorest communities excluded once again," reported City News Service. "South Los Angeles struggles with the highest concentration of poverty in the city with more than one out of three households living below the poverty rate, a rate nearly 10 percentage points higher than any other region in the city. And yet our community will not benefit from this investment of up to a half a billion dollars."

Poverty Has Jumped 69 Percent In SoCal Since 1990
New Report Spells Out Doom And Gloom For Our Future: 'Los Angeles Is Barely Treading Water'