Gentri-flyer Sets Off Social Media Storm in Boyle Heights

Behold: the most tone-deaf flyer in the history of man. (Photo seen on several facebook pages).
Behold: the most tone-deaf gentri-flyer in the history of man. (Photo seen on several Facebook pages. Click to enlarge).

When I first saw the flyer at left pop up in my social media feeds yesterday morning, I actually thought it was a joke.

Touting Boyle Heights as a “charming, historic, walkable, and bikeable neighborhood” where you could put down “as little as $40K with decent credit,” it invited Arts District neighbors to join in on a (free!) hour bike tour followed by a discussion and artisanal snacks.

No one who knew anything about Boyle Heights — a predominantly Mexican-American working-class community with a long history of political and social activism — could possibly think this was a good idea, right?

In one fell swoop, the flyer embodies every single one of residents’ worst fears: a passel of hipster outsiders coming in to stake their claims while munching on “artisanal” snacks because Boyle Heights’ own offerings did not appeal to their more refined sensibilities.

Few things have ever screamed, “I have no interest in getting to know this community!” quite so effectively.

And, it didn’t help that the flyers had only been distributed in the Arts District (just across the river from Boyle Heights), meaning that residents were finding out about it secondhand and thus left to construct their own narratives about who was behind it and what their intentions were.

Hoping to figure out what the story was, I immediately reached out to Adaptive Realty and spoke with Bana Haffar, a realtor and the organizer of the event.

It was before noon when we spoke, but she was already getting pushback about the event.

The negativity seemed to have taken her by surprise. She had looked at a tour in a community she liked as a positive thing. And, as an immigrant from an embattled community herself, she felt she understood the value of community, being a good neighbor, and not pushing others out.

And, she noted, she was only tapping into a reality that is already well underway — property values are on the rise and turnover has been happening in the area for some time. Boyle Heights is no longer just an Ellis Island for new immigrants. Beyond acting as a refuge for those looking to escape high rents elsewhere around the city, it is also serving as that first gateway for transplants to L.A. I just met four of them on the train this weekend, incidentally. They knew so little about the community that they had convinced themselves that their pad near Mariachi Plaza was in the heart of East L.A.

As part of a small real estate group dealing in smaller holdings, Haffar seemed to believe they might be able to help make positive contributions to the area (i.e. being better landlords to local renters) and bring in people who also were interested in building community.

I spoke to her at length about some of the changes that the area had undergone in recent years and where people’s concerns, at least as I understood them, lay. We talked about the challenge of ensuring a community benefited from changes it was undergoing. Then I connected her with a few people I felt she might benefit from hearing from about those issues, if she were serious about the notion of being a more conscious neighbor.

Watching the debate evolve on social media, I saw that many of Boyle Heights’ residents were grappling with some of the same questions we had discussed: Who is a gentrifier? Do outsiders sometimes bring positive change? What is the cost of change? Why is it often a loss for the community? Must it always be so? What can we do better than outsiders? Are we doing enough of it? How can we do more?

And, as the very notion of gentrification never fails to stir up intense passions, I also watched as the troops rallied and people only half-jokingly discussed plans to crash the tour or call upon their homeboys to stand around and look menacing.

Sometime in the afternoon (I didn’t spot it til late), however, things took a turn.

One of the memes that popped up warning people about the dangers of Adaptive Realty's Moses Kagan.
One of the memes that popped up warning people about the dangers of Adaptive Realty’s Moses Kagan. Click to enlarge.

Memes of Moses Kagan, one of the principals of Adaptive Realty, went up with a damning quote about L.A.’s “horribly ugly” poorer streets and the pitchforks came out. All of his contact information was posted on it and people encouraged each other to pass it on, let him know how they felt about this impending invasion, or create their own memes. A select few volunteered to kick his ass.

Meanwhile, Haffar was getting disturbing phone calls and emails. Some were threatening, she said, with one woman claiming they would “burn your shit down like the Watts Riots in ’92” and others telling her, a non-white person, that white people needed to “stay the fuck out of our neighborhood.” Guns even started appearing in a few Facebook posts, she said.

Things were officially out of hand.

Haffar cancelled the event.

The threats of violence were shocking, particularly given the recent terrible events in Isla Vista. And, while they were not at all representative of the people I know in Boyle Heights, for better or for worse, they were indicative of just how deeply some fear the gradual encroachment they are experiencing threatens the very survival of their community and culture.

But Haffar seemed largely undaunted by the onslaught, instead considering it an opportunity to learn more about the community and get people talking.

Where she found the original flyer posted on Facebook, she wrote of the need to create a “new model for gentrification” that had “positive connotations for change” and benefited long-time residents and newcomers alike. She then implored people to get involved with their neighborhood council and participate in conversations about how to make Boyle Heights a better place.

That sentiment was echoed, to a degree, in the apology issued by Kagan. It’s a lengthy mea-culpa of sorts, acknowledging the privilege with which he speaks in his blog, the lack of tact in the language used to describe lower-income communities on the blog, and his limited experience with or understanding of the potential harmful effects of gentrification.

At the end, he invites people to engage him in a civil manner on questions of their intentions in the community and to write him emails describing the ills of gentrification so he can post them on his blog (you can find that post here).

I found both of their posts instructive regarding their lack of familiarity with just how vibrant and engaged a community Boyle Heights has always been, as well as how they, as realtors, often fail to think about the consequences of the processes they set in motion when facilitating gentrification. Not necessarily because they are terrible people bent on committing cultural genocide (as some alleged online yesterday), but because they are playing a role in a process that is much bigger than they are. And they know that if it is not them taking advantage of the market, it will surely be someone else.

What feels like an inevitable process for one set of actors, however, can feel like a siege to another.

For many of those in the area who are experiencing those changes on a daily basis, gentrification (and even gentefication) and its impacts are an ever-present topic of concern.

The understanding that it broadly describes a complicated and multi-layered process that tends to result in the gradual marginalization of the very people that made the community so special is behind the years-long conversations initiated by Boyle Heights residents, artists, and activists. Dedicated to promoting change from within, but wary of the possibility of inadvertently pushing out their own people, many continue to dialogue among themselves about how to make the process of change inclusive.

The totality of those ongoing conversations cannot be captured in a single email to a realtor.

Nor should they be.

While the community may have spoken loudly against gentrification as a whole yesterday, the diversity of its inhabitants, their aspirations, their pasts, and their presents precludes the possibility of there being a simple answer to the question.

And, although I certainly cannot speak for anyone, I can guess that many of those same residents, artists, and activists might argue it is not their responsibility to go to Adaptive Realty with their concerns, anyways. If the realtors are truly interested in learning about the community and being a good neighbor, then it would seem to fall to them to make the effort to spend some time in Boyle Heights, listen to a diversity of stakeholders, and participate in that long-running dialogue.

Oh, and maybe leave the artisanal snacks at home.

* * * *

See coverage of the follow-up conversation residents had about next steps, here. For more on the history of redlining in Los Angeles and how it shaped the development of Boyle Heights, please click here. Follow Sahra @sahrasulaiman on Twitter, like our Facebook page here, or contact her at sahra(at)


  • Alex Brideau III

    No, it’s a legitimate concern. You and I might have the confidence to introduce ourselves to our neighbors when we move in, but I suspect many, many folks do not do this. Like it or not, I think it’s a reality of modern-day living.

    And I can imagine that if I was moving into a neighborhood where I felt I might not be welcome as a newcomer, I might want to keep a low profile.

    I’m not saying this is the “right” practice, just that it’s something that happens fairly frequently. I’ve lived in several apartments in DTLA (and one lives in much closer proximity to their neighbors in a multi-family building) and rarely do our immediately adjacent new neighbors go out of their way to introduce themselves.

  • sahra

    I know it is a real issue. I see it around USC. I see it in Echo Park. You have two communities living side-by-side who sometimes seem to exist in completely different universes. I don’t think it is necessarily a reality of modern-day living — I think some of it varies from culture to culture. Whatever the reason, as I said to Shane below, part of more harmonious living is having some consciousness of what role you’re playing in the larger process. Because, as someone mentioned somewhere above, what happens when you have these divides is that the original inhabitants of lesser means begin to be seen as the “sketchy” problem and become marginalized in the community they grew up in. Around USC, the local youth have been criminalized and are intensely policed. In Echo Park, too, where residents who were rightfully unhappy about tagging somehow came to the conclusion that gang injunctions were the answer… in truth that really serves to allow for more profiling and less mobility for youth of color. It isn’t happening because the new residents are terrible racists (not usually, I hope, at least). But it does happen because people are not making the effort to cross those divides and some come to fear what they are unfamiliar with. For all its diversity, the city is tremendously segregated. Harmonious urban living that is healthy for all requires that we at least look at the bigger dynamics at play and ask whether we play a role in perpetuating unhealthy ones.

  • sahra

    thanks, marcotico… those are good points.

  • Micklak

    Sahra, I agree with everything you’ve written, except I might call small investors homebuyers. I bought a house in a neighborhood that I could afford, not as an investment, but as a place to live. I still thinks this is what drives gentrification.

  • nelaboy

    Well, if you are wearing that little Zapatista/sunglasses outfit out in public, I can see why a few people might give you looks. No offense…

  • nelaboy

    When a house comes up for sale in Boyle Heights, who is allowed to buy it???

    1) Do you have to be 100% Latino/Latina? Can you be half Latino/Latina?

    2) What if your partner is not Latino/Latina, can you still buy the house?

    3) What if you are a 2nd or 3rd generation Latino/Latina and don’t speak Spanish?

    4) Can you be a Latino/Latina teacher and buy the house? Or does that level of income exclude you?

    Someone please help! I am looking to buy a house in Boyle Heights and I want to know what I need to qualify. Thanks.

  • sahra

    Yes, that’s who I am referring to. Those folks and folks Adaptive Realty works with who buy smaller apartment buildings (first to live in, but later to lease as an income-generating property). They’ve made the claim that extensive rent-control will save much of Boyle Heights from turnover, but it isn’t that simple. Especially because while much of BHs residents are renters, they live in single-family homes which are exempted from any such protections (as I understand it).

  • One thing I’ll note is that much of the funding for things like small local parks (especially new ones) comes from developer fees, community benefit agreements, and TFAR payments. Even those things aren’t technically the city, in that they don’t happen unless the developers decide they want to build something in the area (since those benefits and fees need to be spent on the community around which the development is taking place).

  • Debbie Valenta

    Boo hoo. Go to New York City. It’s filled with neighborhoods that used to be cultural bastions for new immigrants from different parts of the world. Long gone. It’s what happens. Those new immigrants became successful and moved into the ‘burbs. Middle class folks who couldn’t afford to buy a home elsewhere moved in for the cheap housing. This is the United States. They should be allowed to do that without fear. So Boyle Heights is a Hispanic immigrant community. Isn’t that what pretty much what most of SoCal is? BH wasn’t always like it is now–it evolved, and it will keep evolving. Nothing lasts forever, folks.

  • Debbie Valenta

    Well, you have San Diego Comic Con to thank for that.

  • calwatch

    Also, look at all the investment Supervisor Molina has made in East LA, with the East LA Civic Center, Belvedere Park, and the Maravilla shopping center. Yet property values near the Eastside Gold Line have largely stayed flat and there is not gentrification going on there to any large extent. The farmer’s market is a traditional market with fewer artisinal goods that cost upwards of $100. While this may change with the Regional Connector it is clear that some places, rail accessible even, have not had that critical mass.

  • calwatch

    Exactly. It is a free country and you don’t have to engage in conversations if you don’t want, but if someone next door wants to strike up a conversation with you and you decline, you are going to appear stuck up and arrogant, and that will transfer over to everyone else of your type as a stereotype. Warranted or not, people moving in have to be sensitive of that, because neighbors are the ones that look out for our properties when we aren’t there.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Indeed. But worth noting is that in most areas of Los Angeles, a neighborhood’s current/existing residents are not its “original” residents; just its most recent residents. I think that’s an important distinction to make, as using the term “original” could be taken to mean that one group has a more legitimate “claim” to an area than another group, which is an attitude that some do hold and that I feel is part of the problem.

    It’s true that LA has too many neighborhoods that are segregated with by ethnicity, economics, or both. My personal belief is that a homogenous neighborhood might be comfortable for some, but overall tends to be unhealthy for the community. It breeds an us-versus-them mentality and does little to encourage inter-group dialogue and relationships, which I feel are key to furthering the integration of our society.

    Obviously, I don’t have the solution to these problems, but one small encouraging development I’ve seen in the recent past has been the emergence of mixed-income housing. I was fortunate enough to live in a mixed-income apartment building when I first moved to DTLA. While it’s no cure-all, allowing market-rate and low-income rental units to coexist in the same building made for a positive experience. Neighbors were neighbors. Rich or poor, we all shared the same elevators and all got upset when the trash chute would get jammed. I can’t say our apartment community solved society’s ills, but it felt like we might have been a least a small part of the solution.

  • sahra

    this was the kind of thing @gregorioadamdavila:disqus was talking about with regard to whether or not improvements come to a neighborhood before the gentrifiers do:

  • David

    The Hispanic community has definitely staked a claim in Boyle Heights, but they seem to forget that before they ‘invaded’ BH, it was a predominantly Japanese community. Change happens…and I think that many of the people who feel threatened by gentrification isn’t afraid of the loss of community, so much as they feel that the rents will increase and they will be forced out of the area to find someplace cheaper to live. I’ve been a BH resident for 10 years and I for one would LOVE to feel safer walking around at night, not worry about the drug users in the park after dark, and be able to find an area to hang out where I won’t be looked at as an “outsider” when I go to a restaurant because I’m not Latino!

  • Hi

    You sound like a self-hating hipster. Who cares who lives where, grow the hell up Jesus Christ

  • Hi

    Oh my God, somebody didn’t smile at you when you passed them??? I’ve never had that happen before! /s

  • jk2001

    It was never “predominantly a Japanese community.” It was something like 10% Japanese American (yes, mostly born here), from the 30s to the 50s. We had an enclave north of 1st, and a lot of people spread around, but it wasn’t a majority.

    There have always been Mexican-Americans there, in large numbers. Every old timer I have met calls it a Mexican neighborhood or a mixed neighborhood if they’re Mexican. Mexicans have been in the area since the Mexico days.

    And it wasn’t safer or less ganged out back then. There were Armenian, Jewish, Mexican, mixed, and later, Black gangs. Mickey Cohen came from BH, a real life Prohibition Era mafioso. If you look at the houses, really, look, you’ll see that the middle class days ended by the 1920s.

    One reason why is: segregation. From the 1910s onward, real estate developers figured out how to make money: create whites-only developments for all classes of whites. LA became one of the areas where new communities were being built “whites only”, usually by displacing integrated but sparse communities.

    These racist developments attracted capital, and eventually became the new suburbs. You had the working class white developments in the gateway cities, and the middle class and wealthy white developments in the westside. Thus, integrated communities formed in the older areas like BH and South Central, but also everywhere there were old communities (like along Pico, or in La Rana, or in Mid City and Pico Union, or in the SGV). The rule of thumb was, the LAPD would prevent Blacks and other POC from being in white cities after sundown.

  • jk2001

    Yeah, I felt the same way until a few years ago. It went from being just a cheap way to get around, to an “ecologically conscious” thing to do.

  • jk2001

    It’s not happening “everywhere”. It’s happening in a handful of neighborhoods that have been targeted by the real estate business. You can buy in Paramount, Compton, Montebello, San Fernando, Mid City, Inglewood, etc. etc. etc. If people spread out, not only would gentrification stop, but the mentality that created unusually high prices would too.

  • jk2001

    Capital and political clout.

  • Guest

    I think you’re the revisionist – it’s always had diversity, but if you look at the numbers, it’s been majority Mexican most of those diverse years, too.

  • jk2001

    You’re not looking close enough. The city has been a huge motivator of gentrification going back to the Tom Gilmore days.

  • Matt

    Very few Mexicans in the early days of Boyle Heights. It was developed after CA came under American control by white families. Take a look at the picture I posted down below of a 1890s Boyle Heights elementary school. Almost all white. The Mexicans didn’t come for many years afterwards.

  • PC

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious (but if it’s so obvious, why has nobody else pointed it out?). If we weren’t sitting in the middle of Housing Bubble 2.0, people in Boyle Heights would have a number of issues to contend with but a bike ride full of priced-out house-horny white people led by an unsavory real estate carpetbagger wouldn’t be one of them.

  • sahra

    Indeed it had a great number of white residents at one point. But industrial development/zoning and redlining relegated minorities to the Boyle Heights area. Once those restrictions eased and the Jewish population gained prominence in other parts of LA, many of the Jewish families from Boyle Heights left the area, now able to buy outside the community. The Mexican immigrant population largely stayed put, as it was still discriminated against with regard to home loans (as was the Boyle Heights area, in general) and work opportunities.

  • sahra

    I don’t disagree with regard to the problems segregation can breed, but now you’re getting into a whole other set of issues that are really complicated to resolve…fixing it involves things like greater investment in minority communities, addressing structural (and overt) racism, greater investment in public schools and opportunities for minority and lower-income youth, etc. etc. etc. Just living side-by-side won’t do that (not that you are arguing that that is the cure-all… I understand you are not). If you take the cases of Echo Park or the USC areas, you see two communities living side by side but existing in almost separate universes. There is little overlap, and the black and brown members of those communities are often treated with suspicion or are marginalized because of the fears and misunderstandings that the divisions (both social and economic) between the two can create.

    I would also argue the BH residents are neither homogenous (racially, technically yes, but the community is fantastically diverse) nor necessarily arguing they have an “original” claim on the place. They do ground themselves in the fact that they were pushed into that area by discrimination and have worked really hard to make something out of it. Some do argue that now that they’ve managed to fix it up, others want to come in and take it from them… obviously it is more complicated than that, but that sentiment is there. Many also take great pride in Boyle Heights’ long history of activism and organizing for rights and the strength that their movida draws from their cultural values and heritage.

    Communities like Boyle Heights or Leimert, besides having their own unique cultures and histories, have an important place in the racial and cultural history of Los Angeles as a whole. They also contribute to its current cultural richness and need to be valued as such. It doesn’t mean development shouldn’t or won’t happen in those areas, but having places where those cultures can be celebrated is important to members of those communities and important for diversity, in general.

  • sahra

    It’s more than that… one of the artists at a gathering in BH on the topic yesterday argued that if we don’t know our neighbors, then we don’t have community, period.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I don’t think it’s a “whole other set of issues” at all, though the issues are indeed complicated to resolve. I think that increasing mixed-income housing, and indeed mixed-income neighborhoods, is healthier than continuing the status quo of having “rich folks live here; poor folks live here; black folks live here; white folks live here; etc.” In my experience, neighborhoods benefit most when they host a wide range of demographics, not just one or two.

  • Darren

    The Mexicans did not come (return) to Boyle Heights ,because white peoole FORCED THE ORIGINAL MEXICANS OUT!!! and as for the school picture… THERE ARE ONLY WHITES IN THAT PHOTO, BECAUSE MEXICANS WERE NOT ALLOWED TO ATTEND SCHOOL WITH WHITES…DUH!!!

  • Darren


  • Matt

    Sorry, but there only about 1,500 people (non Native Americans) in Los Angeles at the time of the Mexican American War and virtually no one in the open land of what would become Boyle Heights. Mexico and Spain largely ignored this part of their empires and mismanaged it with what little attention they paid to it. Mexicans largely became interested in moving to CA after the economy was developed, which started to begin with the Southern Pacific connection with the rest of the US, which is when Boyle Heights came to be.

  • Matt

    Here is the history of Andrew Boyle. There wasn’t even a proper house east of the Los Angeles River until he built one in the 1860s.

  • Antonio Aguilar

    Here’s a link to the history of Boyle Heights which states that indeed the inhabitants of what came to be known as Boyle Heights were only Mexican and Native before Andrew Workman.

  • sahra

    Housing was a topic of discussion when everybody sat down to talk. It is definitely an issue…

  • Gentry

    It’s not insulting, it’s the inconvenient truth. Ask those communities themselves why they were wasting away their own neighborhoods. Ask those communities why it took an influx of outsiders before they woke up about the state of their own neighborhoods.

  • jose

    I welcome the gentrification. I’ve been living on 1st and Dacotah for 30 years. My neighbors won’t pick up their trash. They won’t leash their dogs. They won’t get their cars off their lawns. I was brought to the US as a baby and worked hard. I’ve raised 4 kids, put 4 in college and managed to have a good life. This community is stuck in ghetto mode. I don’t care if you are brown, black or white. Just clean up this place.

  • There’s nothing wrong with the poster. There IS something wrong with articles like this. If I want to buy in Boyle heights and it’s more affordable for my family I should have the right to do so.
    Neighborhoods change just as Boyle Heights did long ago when us Latinos moved in. Most of LA is Latinos either way what can you do? This gentrification will likely bring positive change to the area.
    This author and the uproar against this poster are hypocritical in so many ways.

  • I agree jose, they need to do something to clean up the neighborhood

  • agreed. the author here is a hypocrite idiot

  • This looks like the same sort of racism Blacks received when they moved into Inglewood 30 years ago. This author is a moron

  • I’m Latino and had planned to move to Boyle Heights because I can’t afford houses other areas. Am I wrong for this? Should I keep out of their neighborhood?

  • Mexicans moved in and the people that were already there let them move in. What’s the big deal here

  • And? What if Blacks were moving to boyle heights? Would that be allowed? Or would the current residents protest an influx of black residents?

  • Claire

    I am a second generation hispanic female. I am college educated and make a fairly descent income. I live in a beautiful condo in Old Town Pasadena, however my rent is sky high and my commute to work in Downtown Los Angeles is killing me. I am seeking an affordable place to live near Downtown Los Angeles, however I cannot afford a 2500 two bedroom apartment that I will barely spend time in due to working the majority of the week. I do not see myself as a gentrifier, as I am hispanic and my grandparents were working class. I love my hispanic roots and my culture. I do not however, like violence or uneccessary filth. In a prime area as Boyle Heights, I suggest the people living there ALL take pride in their sought out land. There are many who are lovely, peaceful, and harworking individuals. There are also those who don’t value what they have or seek opportunities to better themseleves and resort to a life of crime and violence. Yes, many working professionals and “hipsters” are moving to Boyle Heights. I see it as a chance to improve the community by bringing in more income and a demand for safer-cleaner streets. Everyone for a better community will benefit from it. Diversity. Even more diversity in Latinos will change the city. Post graduate Latinos, corporate Latinos, artist Latinos ect. We are all simply seeking an affordable yet safe place to live. Don’t fight it Boyle Heights, embrace it. Love your neighborhood enough to let it grow and improve. As a Latina I understand they are roots, however when the roots are ready to grow they must. Los Angeles is changing, there is no need to hold on to suffering, poverty and crime. Simply my point of view. There are enough “ghettos” in Los Angeles. Let Boyle Heights flourish please. Thank you.

  • Fevertotell

    Here’s the problem with adaptive realty…they encourage investors to purchase cheap properties for profit. I made the mistake of living in a building owned by adaptive realty and let me tell you, they don’t care about the people. Moses cares about the dollar signs. Rent prices increased $300 within the first year. Two grand for 800 square feet in Highland Park? Ridiculous. They’re not trying to build a community for the people’s benefit, they’re building a community for their pocket books.

  • “I do not see myself as a gentrifier, as I am hispanic and my grandparents were working class…” – so your general idea is that only white people can facilitate gentrification? Racist much?

  • You’re right. That’s why they came up with things like Fair Housing Laws so that one group cannot tell another group that they are not allowed to live West of This and South of That.

  • I still find this article unfair to this day…. Boyle Heights as a community has been very xenophobic towards other people moving in. I was cussed at as I looked at some houses there

  • notyourplace

    Welcoming gentrification? are you kidding me? So this community should “welcome” a flood of money which will sky rocket rent to the point that they can no longer live there? Displacing the chicano community that currently lives there and importing wealthier and prominently white transplants. If their responding angrily its because of fear


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