Watts' $1B Makeover Worries Some Residents

A $1 billion project to create an "urban village" of shops, restaurants and new apartments in one of Los Angeles’ most violence-prone areas – Jordan Downs in Watts – got final approval from the city Wednesday.

The unanimous approval allows the city to now apply for a $30 million federal grant to fund the project, which Councilman Joe Buscaino called a "win-win" for the community.

"We haven't seen a billion-dollar investment in Watts, ever," Buscaino said. "Once this project is in place, you're going to have that opportunity of sit-down restaurants, commercial retail here in the heart of Watts."

Developer The Michaels Organization of New Jersey plans to build 1,400 new apartments, shops and restaurants to transform the dilapidated housing project. But some residents fear they'll be displaced, despite being told they wouldn't as long as they're in good standing with the housing authority.

"I grew up with these people," said Minister Mac Shorty, of the Watts Neighborhood Council. "I love them to death – hate to see them leave and go."

"All of our neighbors back to back right here. We all talk to each other," Paola Gomez said.

Buscaino assured residents Thursday that those in good standing would not be displaced.

"Our message is absolutely not, not under my watch," he said. "It's a one for one housing development - 700 units, 700 families."

Other units may be sold at market rate to attract other residents and retailers, according to city officials.

The city and the developer now have to apply for federal grants in order to move forward. If all goes as planned, construction could begin next fall, according to city officials.

Meantime, residents hope what they enjoy most about their current community, doesn't go away with what's to come.

"Like many community we have our violence, but it's known for togetherness," Shorty said.

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