An Echo Park champion of the working class reaches out to the new gentry

“We tried keeping the Cuban community involved but it wasn’t working,” Figueroa said. “We had to change strategy and look at what was going on.”

Gentrification, however, remains a big concern for Figueroa, who has lead the nonprofit since 1980. The group is now interested in developing affordable housing in Echo Park. El Centro once “dreamed” of building housing on the remaining public parking lots in Echo Park south of Sunset Boulevard, Figueroa said. Now, however, it is looking elsewhere to provide housing, she said.

While many residents report being kicked out by property flippers, you won’t find Figueroa criticizing the new residents or businesses. In, fact she said that some of the people her organization counseled as youths are now Echo Park property owners who, like El Centro, have an interest in a stable and economically healthy neighborhood.

So, during the Friday night open house, which will feature entertainment by members of Culture Clash, Figueroa will be ready to welcome the new kids on the block.

“We want to say ‘hi’ to our new neighbors and new businesses,” Figueroa said. “We want you to know who we are and what we do. We have become a mainstay here.”

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