• A development

      Kings Villages (Photo – rosecommunity

      From the 1950’s to the 70’s the practice of ‘urban renewal’ permeated municipal government policy nationwide as a process to address the issues of postwar urban life.

      By Brian Biery

      Urban renewal allowed cities to acquire and “renew” sections of town by labeling those areas “blighted” or considered to be slums. Usually, the neighborhoods that were targeted by government agencies were in communities of color. Thus, this practice has had cascading negative financial and social effects on the families who were forced to move from their homes due to urban renewal.

      In Pasadena, the impacts of redlining and the mortgage risk rating system had already reverberated throughout the community by forcing families of color to live in certain neighborhoods in the city. Realtors were also complicit; they often refused to sell homes to Blacks or other minorities outside of specified areas of the city. By the mid-1960’s several of the neighborhoods where African, Latin American and Japanese families lived were under threat of construction by the 210/710 freeways. By 1974, in the old Pasadena area alone, over 1,500 homes were destroyed for freeway construction forcing more than 4,000 residents to move.

      The first ‘urban renewal’ effort in Pasadena was originally called the ‘Pepper Street Redevelopment Project’ and is now known as Kings Villages. In order to build support for the project, the City of Pasadena designated the area as being blighted, it wasn’t. Alma Stokes, one of the Black professionals who was hired to assist families with their relocation efforts, remembers the neighborhood as a thriving community. It was filled with homeowners, local businesses, shops, a pharmacy, a library, a park and numerous other neighborhood resources. “The area really wasn’t blighted,” remembers Ms. Stokes. “It wasn’t. It was just Black removal.”

      From the date the Pepper Street project was proposed in 1958 there was considerable resistance to the idea on the part of residents. As a result, community members led by Emmett Mickel of First AME Church Pasadena, organized and fought the ‘Pepper Project’ for ten years.  Their efforts were ultimately blocked by the City, and the housing complex was constructed in 1968. Part of the original intent of the Pasadena Redevelopment Agency was to reduce the number of Black families in that part of Pasadena.  Interestingly, however, there were no white buyers for the $18,500 townhomes. The units sat empty for months which caused the PRA and the City to subsequently reclassify them as low-income housing.

      As with similar ‘urban renewal’ projects across the country, the Pepper Project did not fulfill the promise of urban redevelopment, which was to improve the quality of housing, rebuild infrastructure and rid cities of urban decay. The resulting impacts were instead to close local businesses along Fair Oaks Ave., displace residents, and turn homeowners into renters; which ultimately contributed to a significant decrease in family wealth in communities of color.

      In addition, it destroyed the connective tissue of the neighborhood: homes with front porches and lawns where families could connect and kids could play. And, in this particular case, it transformed a healthy neighborhood into one ridden with crime. Poor management of the Kings Villages apartment complex by its owners and lack of social service support systems for the residents, contributed to the erosion of the quality of life of the neighborhood.

      By the time ground was broken for the project in 1968, 299 families had been displaced, 91% of them families of color. After a year of serving as a ‘relocation specialist’ for the PRV, Alma Stokes resigned from her job and returned to teaching at Washington School.  It was an extremely taxing and frustrating task to find housing for families who had lost their homes.  “I left that job because I couldn’t stand working there anymore watching Black removal,” said Ms. Stokes of her experience recently.

      Footnote: Kings Villages is a large housing development that currently consists of 313 units and rests on property between Washington Blvd. and Hammond St. along Fair Oaks Ave. It was purchased in 2021 by The Rose Affordable Housing Preservation Fund V for $233 million. According to the Rose Community Management website, affordable, subsidized units in the Village start at $2,024 for a 1-bedroom apartment and rise to $3,827 a month for a 4-bedroom apartment.

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      1. Robbie Gregory-hancox says:

        I use to live there in 1972. Stayed about a year because the wouldn’t fix my bathroom. Loved the layout of the apartment

      2. Martha Williams says:

        There’s barely blacks in the kings village it’s totally different and least be fair

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