Reimagining Public Housing — Watts’ Jordan Downs Gets a Second Chance at the American Dream

When public housing projects entered the American landscape after World War II, they were touted as the antidote to poverty, providing affordable, safe housing in urban areas where residents would be close to jobs, schools and essential infrastructure. In practice, however, “the projects” soon became synonymous with poverty, crime and disenfranchisement, places where people of color were segregated away from a more prosperous white population.

Jordan Downs in the city of Watts was such a place. Built in the 1940s, Jordan Downs rapidly deteriorated into a high-crime neighborhood where residents barricaded behind barred windows, seeking shelter from gang violence and clashes with police in addition to the elements.

One of 14 public housing projects in Los Angeles that house a total of nearly 20,000 residents, Jordan Downs is now getting a second chance at the American Dream. It has taken 20 years of planning by city officials and $1billion, but this community that was once notorious as home to the Crips street gang is transforming into a safe, beautiful housing district surrounded by modern amenities and public spaces designed to enhance the lives of its residents.

The redevelopment of Jordan Downs will more than double its size from 700 to 1,500 units, with stylish, townhouse-style apartment buildings adorned with first-floor patios and balconies on the upper floors. In the new Jordan Downs, there are no more barred windows — those are relics of the past.

The surrounding neighborhood is now a thriving community with a new 115,000 square foot shopping center called Freedom Plaza, where residents can shop, dine, do their banking and grab a coffee at their community Starbucks located adjacent to the new development. These businesses also provide jobs for many of the residents at Jordan Downs. Soon, a new community center and nine acres of green space will be added to the project.

As a key trade partner to Walton Construction, 20/20 Plumbing & Heating, Inc. is playing a significant role in several of the individual housing segments that make up the overall Jordan Downs project. 20/20 also worked in tandem with Portrait Construction on a previous phase of Jordan Downs re-development.

This initiative began in 2008 as a joint effort by owner/manager the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), area residents and a number of other stakeholders. Bridge Housing Corp. and Michaels Organization are co-developing the project. Portions of the masterplan have already been completed. The total project is being funded by a combination of grants and private capital. There is still much work to be done, as delays in federal, state and private financing for the project have set back construction deadlines.

To prevent resident disenfranchisement that has come with the gentrification of similar communities, officials have promised Jordan Downs residents a right of return, guaranteeing that everyone who lived there before redevelopment can come back after the project is completed. More than 70% of residents have chosen to stay after redevelopment, while most of those departing are using Section 8 housing vouchers to move to other places.

20/20 supports affordable housing initiatives for veterans, seniors and other low-income communities and is dedicated to elevating the quality of life for people across social, racial and economic divides.

We are proud to deliver the highest quality services, regardless of budget, to ensure that our California and Nevada neighbors have safe and comfortable places to call home.