A Changing Market Reflects a Changing City

Los Angeles, California — “I think unless people, they’re very wealthy, [parents] care that their kids can go to elementary school public,” Lisa Stein, a Los Angeles-based real estate agent explains.

Stein has noticed that good elementary schools have the most draw for parents looking to move neighborhoods in West Los Angeles, where the housing market become increasingly competitive over the past decade. Even in high-income areas such as Santa Monica and the Pacific Palisades, “the really wealthy are actually using their public schools [more] than people that are even upper or middle class.”

Stein notes the Ladera Heights neighborhood is one area in particular that has retained its community feel and integrity without giving in to the demands of city-wide gentrification. Once a predominately Jewish neighborhood, the area, commonly referred to as “the black Beverly Hills” by residents, now mainly consists of upper-middle class African American families. According to Census data, the community is 73.7% African American and 13.3% non-Hispanic White as the second largest population. Stein has seen the old but well-built houses, “being redone, getting remolded, and sold by developers, getting much, much higher numbers.”

“When I was younger it was a lot easier [to go to a good public school].”
18-year-old Isabel Kibreab. Now a freshman at NYU, she was able to attend a well-regarded public elementary school. Photo provided by Isabel Kibreab.

However, Isabel Kibreab, a college student who spent her middle and high school years living in Ladera Heights, knows that moving to the area does not always come with the promise of good public schooling. Kibreab attended Mar Vista Elementary by getting in to the school via their lottery system, but her elementary school-aged brother was not so lucky and was unable to get in.

Ladera Heights is part of the Inglewood School District, which is often overshadowed by the nearby, more reputable Culver City School District. Around the time Kibreab’s family moved to the Ladera Heights area, the community was trying to get their neighborhood included in the Culver City School District, but Culver City ultimately voted them out. Her parents then made the choice to send her brother to a private school.

“When I was younger it was a lot easier [to go to a good public school],” she remembers, and now in Ladera Heights, “most people send their kids to private school or magnet schools.”

Lisa Wolfe, a life-time Los Angeles resident with two grown children reflects on her experience of sending her children through the Beverly Hills Unified School District. Wolfe notices that in the affluent Beverly Hills area, people that can afford private schools mostly do not send their children to public schools. However, her main reason for moving to the 90210 postal code was intentionally for the good school system.

A childhood photo of Lisa Stein, life-time Los Angeles resident. Photo provided by Lisa Wolfe.
“I really think it all boils down to where are the good teachers, where are the teachers who care.”

Although she was pleased with her children’s education, Wolfe is surprised by the changes in the schools she attended as a child growing up in West Los Angeles. “The school system has changed,” she explains about the middle school she attended, “Webster Junior High…it’s not known to be very good, it may not even be that safe. People don’t send their kids there.”

When choosing a school district, she explains, “I really think it all boils down to where are the good teachers, where are the teachers who care.” It is not necessarily the school’s reputation that determines its quality: “I think there were some teachers at Venice saying things that were better than what was going on at Beverly, to tell you the truth,” she explains of the high school she attended as an adolescent versus the school her children went to.

“We know we paid a premium to live in that neighborhood.”

Laina Schwartz, mother of twin five-year-old girls, recently bought a new house conveniently located across from their daughters’ public elementary school. Schwartz and her husband had been looking for a house for over a year before they found their new home.

It was important for Schwartz to have her children attend a top-notch public school, but she “know[s] we paid premium to live in that neighborhood,” which is walking distance to a local metro stop, a major shopping mall, and shops and restaurants. She mentions that she notices gentrification continuing specifically along the new Expo line, which runs from Downtown Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Pier.

Although gentrification has been a hot topic in Los Angeles, Schwartz hopes development will continue along the course of the Expo line. “Walkability is super key,” she says. The convenience of her new home has transformed how she looks at the city which can so often feel like a burden on her.

Los Angeles has begun attracting a different crowd of professionals, which has subtly affected the housing market. With the city becoming more of a “two-industry” town, adding a tech industry to the classic film and television industry, new areas are attracting young people with money. Silicon Beach is a budding area, full of pricey apartments and condos. Its name refers to its location near newly-built tech offices and El Segundo Beach.

“The Silicon Beach thing is coming up,” says Stein, “but I think the hype has brought a lot of attention to Westchester,” that being her home neighborhood. She believes that the increase in new, modern houses in her area greatly appeal to the “tech buyer.” “The houses in Westchester are better houses,” she reassures, however, “now there’s a two million dollar sale in my area.”

An interactive map created by UCLA provides information about gentrification and neighborhood change in Los Angeles County.

According to Stein, every notable neighborhood in West Los Angeles has become (what she would consider to be) expensive. A Los Angeles Times article cited increased job growth and fewer houses on the market as the reason for the price hike.

A typical Ladera Heights home. Image from SouthLA.

An average Ladera Heights home goes for $1,136,400 and the house values in the neighborhood has increased 12.2% in just the past year, predicted by Zillow. In March of 2012, an average home was valued at $726,000.

“There’s just going to be a lot of people who just can’t own a home,” Stein commiserates. She also acknowledges that even in the face of the obstacles residences of a changing city face, there are always other options. “Within an hour or two of Los Angeles [city]…for half a million dollars, you get this amazing home, and it’s quieter and there’s not as much traffic.” Only time will tell how the city will shift with changing factors such as job availability and industry, public school quality, and the affordability of the housing market.