Thursday, October 27, 2016

Neighbor Spotlight: Stanford grad returns to East L.A. to make a difference


Jazmín Faccuseh | C.J. Salgado


EAST LOS ANGELES — Stanford University graduate  Jazmín Faccuseh has the smarts to be anywhere. Instead, her heart has called her back home to East L.A. where she’s making a difference helping to find affordable housing for the most needy in her community where homelessness is a big problem. With deep immigrant family roots in East L.A., the 31-year-old has seen her community change and cares about the impact of those changes. So much so that she also got a master’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona in urban planning. Her thesis was on the reasons for the growth and decline of Whittier Boulevard. She welcomes the new Nike store on Whittier Boulevard yet is also a big fan of street food vendors on that iconic corridor. Featured in a 2009 La Opinión story on returning graduates from prestigious universities, she said “if we don’t return to help our community, who will?”

Faccuseh answered some questions about her life, work and neighborhood:

How did you end up in this neighborhood?

I was born in East L.A. My parents immigrated from the north of Mexico (Torreon, Coahuila) to East L.A. in the late 1950s through mid 1960s, and my family has been residing here permanently since then. My dad was the first to arrive and actually did so when there was still a substantial Jewish representation in the area, which is pretty ironic given the fact that my dad is of Palestinian descent though of Mexican nationality.

What’s your workplace like?

I work for the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles, which receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide housing subsidy to eligible low-income individuals, families, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities living in the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County and 62 participating cities. Our mission is to provide affordable, safe, decent, and sanitary housing while empowering individuals toward self-sufficiency, one family at a time.

What do you do?

I work with the most vulnerable sector of society, extremely low-income individuals under the “Section 8” program. We administer around 25,000 vouchers throughout the county, enabling families to locate housing in the private rental market. My daily functions include processing annual re-certifications, engaging in rent negotiations with participating landlords, and serving as an advocate for these families.

Where do you like to hang out in the neighborhood and why?

One of my favorite things to do is to drive through Whittier Boulevard. Although there currently aren’t many shops that tailor to my “millennial” demographic, one of the biggest draws to the boulevard is the abundance of food outlets. From savory bacon-wrapped hot dogs to “tacos de tripas,” and to a few brick-and-mortar places, Whittier Boulevard is definitely a cultural culinary corridor.

What’s the biggest challenge of living/working here?

The biggest challenge of living here is a lack of amenities in the area. I find myself driving outside of unincorporated East L.A. boundaries to do something as simple as grab coffee or for something more elaborate like a night out. There are many spots to grab a quick bite, but there aren’t many places in the area that I could go to and make a night out of. I try to support as many businesses as I can in the area, but more often than not I usually end up venturing off into nearby cities.

What does this neighborhood need?

A reason for people to stay. I’m referring to everything from a reason to reside here to a reason to stay in the area on a Saturday night. I am increasingly encountering peers who share this sentiment as they have also had the opportunity to go off to college but also want to continue to live in the community that saw them grow, and where their family calls home. The area needs to be able to stay relevant by being able to compete economically. Many surrounding cities draw in customers from East L.A. and this in turn helps fortify their tax base while East L.A. keeps missing out. The same goes for attracting and retaining residents by providing a more substantial stock of quality and diverse housing.

What kinds of people have you met here? Anyone standout?

East L.A. residents are a diverse crowd, from the older monolingual immigrant generation to the younger, college-educated crowd understanding the issues in the community and voicing their concerns. I have probably met the most civically engaged and community-invested folks while I was part of the last cityhood incorporation effort a few years back.

Can you describe an East L.A. “moment”?

I won’t forget any time soon when in early 2015 a man walked into my family’s property and starting walking out with some of our belongings from our back yard. When a neighbor noticed this, they alerted us. As we waited for 911, this man attempted to get away. At that time, one neighbor came to try to hold him down. When a second neighbor saw our first neighbor struggling, she joined in on the effort. A third neighbor eventually had to cross the street to help the first two. By this time, the Sheriffs were just arriving and the man was unable to flee, a citizen’s arrest. The way that our neighbors acted quickly and never thought twice about coming to our aid reminded me that our neighbors share a deep sense of commitment to each other and we are fortunate enough to see each other as a “familia” not just neighbors.

Any “tips” for those wanting to pursue a career/work/interest like yours?

I always knew I wanted to be involved in community development but didn’t know what route to take. Non-profits gave me my first introduction. While others sometimes require more experience, often non-profits are willing to invest in their employees and build up their skillset. I had an amazing opportunity starting off with the East L.A. Community Corporation, a non-profit affordable housing developer focusing in the Boyle Heights and unincorporated East L.A. area. Like them, many non-profits are in search of young talent and are more willing to give you a shot that will enable you to break into certain sectors.

Anything you miss from the past in East L.A.?

I miss the vibrancy Whittier Boulevard was known for, the hustle and bustle. The corridor is in need of more anchors. I want to see busy streets overflowing with economic vitality and a more diverse mix of businesses, including those that close later at night, such as restaurants or maybe even a theater, an anchor to the corridor. The Golden Gate Theater closed around the same time I was born, so I never got to know it but I hear stories from my family about its heyday. I would love to have experienced that.

Future predictions for East L.A.?

I think that there is a significant group within my demographic, “millennial,” that is coming back to the area and would love to see it reach a higher potential. Like me, they have gone out and experienced other communities, all of which has enabled them to view their own community with a more critical eye. I hope to see more investment by our own residents to meet that need.

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  1. Very interesting and thoughtful interview!

    I would be interested in getting Miss Faccuseh’s take on this article and how it applies to Los Angeles:

    “9 in 10 metro areas are losing middle-income families”

  2. A very interesting abstract indeed. I can definitely relate to Ms. Jazmín Faccuseh perspective as I myself spent most of my childhood in the East L.A. area – having attended elementary to high school and still family lives in the area. I commend her approach to change Whittier Boulevard to what it once was and can be given if the community decides to create a vibrant threshold. I also commend her for returning to her roots and wanting to make a change for the better.

    The question is Ms. Jazmín Faccuseh, how to approach such a project without impacting social economic stability?

  3. I love this woman and I dont even know her. To me this is much more attractive than going on instagram n showing what God gave you. Instead she goes and does Gods work. I truly think she is an inspiration. I love you Jazmin. Wish I could meet you one day!

  4. Awesome interview.

    I’m from Torreeon Coahuila as well. It feels good to know someone from your town is doing such an amazing work for our community and people here.

    We can do it Jazmin. And everything is possible. Hope we can meet some day. And I would love to send you a Tshirt that I have in website. That it fits perfectly for what you are doing.

  5. I have also grown up in East Los Angeles attending Eastman Ave Elem.; Stevenson JH; Garfield HS. I have seen Whittier Blvd. change and in my opinion not for the better. Having graduated from college myself and developing an education and career planning consulting firm, I see the need for our dollars to stay in the community. I have had visions of transforming Whittier Blvd. or Beverly Blvd. into a modern economic pulse for the region. Serving Angelinos like myself who have money to spend in the community. But as I have read in the statements above; the questions becomes how/when? Any ideas… [email protected]

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