BOYLE HEIGHTS — An Instagram photo of a fence is something you would not expect to cause much of a stir. But Maria Cabildo – an affordable housing developer, city planning commissioner and prominent Boyle Heights leader – has learned otherwise. Her Instagram photo and remarks on what she called a “gentrification fence” outside a Boyle Heights home stirred up a firestorm in the comments section of the real estate blog Curbed LA, leading Cabildo to apologize in person to the family behind the fence for making them feel like a target.
“It was not a personal thing,” said Cabildo, President of East Los Angeles Community Corp. during a phone interview with The Eastsider. “It was more about a symbol of what the fence represents.”
Cabildo snapped the photo of the wood fence – one of those with horizontal slats that have become common in Echo Park, Highland Park and other gentrifying Eastside neighborhoods – during one of her frequent visits to her father’s home. Cabildo posted the photo to her Instagram account with the following remarks:
The gentrification fence is very horizontal, ubiquitous in Echo Park, but a new comer to #boyleheights I believe that this is the first such fence in #boyleheights. As luck would have it, I drive past it every single day as I travel down … to see my ailing Pops. This fence says, ‘i like the housing stock here but my neighbors are not people I want to interact with.’ Fences in Boyle Heights are porous.”
Since Cabildo’s Instagram account is private, only a small group of her followers would have normally seen the photos and remarks. But Cabildo promoted the photo on her Twitter feed, which caught the attention of Curbed LA, which included her photo and comments on a Jan. 2 post titled Will Boyle Heights Be LA’s Gentrification Hot Spot of 2015?
Her photo and remarks generated more than 270 often heated comments as readers argued and debated the issue of gentrification, housing and race. One of those who read the story and left several comments was the owner of the house. He said that he was a 45-year-old, white “non-hipster” who purchased the house last year in Boyle Heights because “it’s the one place in LA where I could (barely) afford to buy a home. The “gentrification fence,” he said, was already in place when he and his family moved into the bungalow.
Following the comments firestorm, Cabildo removed the Twitter post and link to her Instagram photo and comments. In retrospect, Cabildo said she should have cropped the photo to focus on the fence and leave out the bungalow in the background. But it was too late.
After the owner of the house contacted Cabildo via Twitter, she went to the house and spoke directly with him and had a second follow up meeting at a location on First Street.
“I apologized for causing them distress,” Cabildo said. “They were incredibly gracious and shared their story with me. They didn’t move to Boyle Heights because it was a hot new neighborhood,” she said. “It was the only neighborhood where they can afford to live.”
Cabildo said she invited the home owner to participate in her organization’s ongoing efforts to discuss and deal with gentrification in Boyle Heights.
“All sorts of people are being displaced … across the city,” she said. “It’s very cost driven and driven by the lack of housing and housing affordable. It’s not unique to people of color.”