Heath Chancey



More Than Meets the Eye

A case study on a L.A. neighborhood and implementation of HCD policy frameworks.

About This Case Study

I wrote this case study as part of a semester-long class assignment in my Housing and Community Development class. The project focused on conducting a SWOT analysis for a Los Angeles neighborhood. We would then apply what we learned from the class and neighborhood research to develop policy frameworks to support our assigned community best. Our team of five tackled the Boyle Heights neighborhood nestled just east of Downtown. In this case study, you will find a neighborhood profile and SWOT analysis on Boyle Heights before transitioning to our team’s proposed policy frameworks.

Boundaries + Demographics

As the boundaries of a neighborhood can be subjective by a variety of sources, we defined the boundaries of the Boyle Heights neighborhood to extend as far south as the 5 Freeway, as far north as the 10 Freeway (excluding the Keck campus), as far east as the 5 Freeway, and as far west as North Lorena Street. Our boundaries for demographic related data included the 90033 zip code.

Boyle Heights’ demographic makeup reflects a low to moderate-income community (Median Household Income: $49,734) consisting of a majority Hispanic and Latino population (88.1%). While their bachelor’s degree attainment level is lower than the rest of California (-23.5% to California), Boyle Heights has an above-average K-12 enrollment rate (+3.1% to California).

Over the past two decades, Boyle Heights has improved economic viability and educational attainment. Bachelor's Degree attainment or higher has risen by 8.9%, and the percentage of the population graduating from high school has increased by 8.8%. These numbers are most likely a result of higher enrollment populations in K-12 (+3.1% to California). Economically, Boyle Heights has significantly improved, with a 44% increase in Median Household Income. Employment rates have risen by 7.3%, and poverty rates have steadily declined.

Demographic Overview

  • Total Population:46,081
  • Hispanic/Latino Population: 40,615
  • Hispanic/Latino Population: 40,615 Notable Language Spoken At Home: 82% (Spanish); 14% (English Only)
  • Median Age: 32.3 Y/O (-5.6 to California)

Income + Employment

  • Total Population:46,081
  • Hispanic/Latino Population: 40,615
  • Hispanic/Latino Population: 40,615 Notable Language Spoken At Home: 82% (Spanish); 14% (English Only)
  • Median Age: 32.3 Y/O (-5.6 to California)

Educational Attainment

  • Total Population:46,081
  • Hispanic/Latino Population: 40,615
  • Hispanic/Latino Population: 40,615 Notable Language Spoken At Home: 82% (Spanish); 14% (English Only)
  • Median Age: 32.3 Y/O (-5.6 to California)

Neighborhood Profile

The team was assigned to research the following areas as they pertain to Boyle Heights. These areas of interest would help inform the SWOT analysis. Click a section to reveal a focused view.

Economic Development

In the past two decades, Boyle Heights households have seen a positive shift in economic growth. For example, the median income has increased by 44%, the employment rate has gone up by 7.3%, and poverty has declined since 2000. This positive shift is likely due to the focus on educational and career opportunities implemented in the neighborhood. In addition to these services, Boyle Heights is utilizing a few strategies leveraging zoning and organizations to support economic growth in the community.

Zoning Supporting Local Business and Industry

  • According to the Boyle Heights Community Plan, the neighborhood wants to encourage mixed-use corridors to create new opportunities for small businesses. These corridors are meant to support micro-retail tenants and give mobile sidewalk vendors a place for commerce. To make these corridors more activated, the neighborhood aims to restrict auto-related uses like repair shops and gas stations that create disamenity to residential units.
  • The neighborhood hopes to continue to support its industrial economy as it serves as an economic base and connector of Boyle Heights to the regional economy. Although this is true, Boyle Heights wants to change the use of industrial land to light industrial uses to promote new job opportunities.

Eastside LEADS

  • Eastside LEADS is a coalition of 12 communities, including Boyle Heights, with an agreement with USC and American Campus Communities that includes a “$100,000 job training program, a 25% local hire rate within a three-mile radius of campus for construction jobs, and an agreement to reserve at least 10% of the jobs for disadvantaged workers”. This program aims to support communities with a robust construction labor population like Boyle Heights.

Housing Stock

As a low-moderate income community, Boyle Heights’ housing stock reflects that of the needs of its residents. The median gross rent among tenants is $1,196, about $600 below the rest of the county. In terms of ownership, Boyle Heights lags behind the rest of the county with a housing ownership rate of 20.1%, about 25% lower than the county rate. The majority (55.1%) of the 13,843 units are two to three-bedroom.

Important Statistics

  • Median Gross Rent: $1,196 (-$674 to California)
  • Home Ownership Rate: 20.8% (-35% to California)

Housing Programs + Goals

Boyle Heights has set its goals to incentivize affordable and transit-oriented development in its community plan. The neighborhood believes that incentivizing the development of Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) will supply new opportunities for affordable housing that will save residents costs on rent and commutes. With their Community Benefits Program (CBP), Boyle Heights gives developers FAR and height limit bonuses to developers who will build affordable housing along transit lines. These developments must set aside 11% of units to those of extremely low income, 15% to very low income, and 25% to low-income households. Given the impact this incentive zoning can bring, Boyle Heights could see the rise of a thriving mixed-income community.

Current Housing Stock

Regarding the physical characteristics of housing, residential structures are mainly single-family (41.5%) or apartments with more than ten units (24.7%). As for the age of housing stock, most homes and apartments were built before 1939 (37.3%). Only 25% of Boyle Heights’ housing stock has been made in the past 40 years, meaning many homes could lack modern amenities or be in poor condition.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Boyle Heights has 205 homeless individuals living in emergency and transitional housing. Last year, a protest was against retrofitting an old Sears building into a homeless shelter with 2,500 beds.

Mobility & Access

In terms of mobility, Boyle Heights has a variety of efficient transportation options. The Metro E Line connects Boyle Heights to the rest of Los Angeles with stops in Mariachi Plaza and on Soto and Cezar Chaves. In terms of bus lines, Boyle Heights has all of its main commercial corridors serviced by frequent bus lines. In the spirit of incentivizing transit-oriented development, Boyle Heights is allowing affordable residential and mixed-use buildings to be built with the promise of density and height bonuses. This will bring greater ridership in the future, meaning LA Metro will need to plan to support large volumes of riders.

Despite Boyle Heights's supportive public transit network, most people commute to work by car. For the 75% of people who drive to work, the neighborhood is conveniently surrounded on three sides by freeways, making commutes to other communities accessible. While the average commute in Boyle Heights is about 31 minutes, a sizeable portion of the labor force works on the fringes of the neighborhood in industries like construction and healthcare, making their commute relatively easy.

Education Analysis

While there are about 33 schools in the reaches of the larger Boyle Heights neighborhood, we chose five high schools within our boundaries to study. Below, we put together profiles on each school to determine how impactful education is on the kids of Boyle Heights.

While Boyle Heights was known to have low graduation rates in the past, almost all of the schools studied had graduation rates above 95%. This change excluded only non-magnet public high school students. When analyzing the neighborhood schools' quality, we can see that magnet schools with specialized programs like medical or stem schools have higher reading and math proficiency rates. Regarding socioeconomic demographics, the student population is low-income, as about 95% of all students studied qualify for a free or reduced lunch plan.

Despite being a low-moderate income community in Los Angeles, Boyle Heights firmly believes that educational excellence is the key to uplifting the next generations out of poverty. This is best detailed in Promesa Boyle Heights’ community schools plan. This strategy details core actions to help students succeed, such as analyzing trends in student achievement, identifying educational gaps, proactively managing at-risk students, and connecting high-potential students to targeted interventions. As a result, this program has bettered academic outcomes and increased graduation and college readiness rates.

General Amenities

The section we defined as Boyle Heights has a below-average number of amenities unrelated to food access and recreation. The most notable amenity type is health and wellness, as the neighborhood has two major medical plazas. Going off of the thematic goal of education in Boyle Heights, the community has public libraries and adult learning centers. Below are some amenities that support the neighborhood.

The storefronts along the main commercial corridor that is Cesar E. Chavez Avenue could be more well kept up with. The storefronts are mostly locally owned small businesses.

Amenities By Category

  • Entertainment and Culture (2), Health and Wellness (4), Libraries and Learning Centers (4), Gathering Spaces (1)

Open Spaces and Recreation Centers

Within its boundaries, there are six recreational centers, two parks, and one learning garden. Boyle Heights is one of the few communities in Los Angeles that has neighborhood recreation centers scattered throughout. These rec centers serve various purposes to the community, more than just casual sports activities. The centers provide after-school programs, preschool, summer camps, and classes. Hollenbeck Park is the most significant green space in Boyle Heights. Boarding the 10 Freeway, the park features a pond, playground, and the Hollenbeck Park recreation center, which supports various activities and cultural programs. While many parks serve these functions, they also provide a place where organized crime groups congregate, creating unsafe spaces for children and families.

Food Access

Boyle Heights is one of the few neighborhoods in East LA with accessible food options. For example, within a 15-minute walk from home, the average person can access more than 20 places selling groceries. Furthermore, most people in Boyle Heights can access stores that accept EBT in less than a 15-minute walk. The only caveat is that there are fewer options near public housing developments.

Boyle Heights’ focus on its mixed-use corridors is an excellent example of how residential density combined with retail can bring access to fresh food. In less dense areas, Boyle Heights champions its corner stores as they provide easy access to everyday items and fresh groceries while supporting the local economy with local employment and business ownership opportunities. The neighborhood has allowed for more favorable zoning for these corner stores, enabling them to expand their presence in lower-density communities.

Regarding dining options, Boyle Heights has many locally owned restaurants along its commercial corridors catering to its majority Hispanic population. While there are many local restaurants, fast food chains have not been able to penetrate the market in Boyle Heights. This is a result of neighborhood sentiment to support locally owned restaurants.

Stakeholder Analysis

Boyle Heights resides in Los Angeles’s 14th City Council District, and Kevin de Leon represents the neighborhood. Priorities of the office include building more green spaces, tackling affordable housing and homelessness crisis, and supporting transit infrastructure. Boyle Heights has a very unified neighborhood council that believes in keeping Boyle Heights protected from outside gentrification. Their unofficial motto is, “If it is not for Boyle Heights, then who is it for?”. Their main goals as a neighborhood council are to draft community plans, connect the community to essential services, and represent their neighborhood at a city level.

Volunteer Groups + Non-Profit

  • In terms of organizations in Boyle Heights, there is a coordinated effort among local groups to support various causes, from childhood outcomes to housing justice and economic development. Promesa Boyle is the most unified effort of local non-profit organizations serving the community.

SWOT Analysis

This analysis utilized research from our neighborhood profile to identify areas where the community excelled and where it faltered. By identifying strengths and weaknesses, we were better able to direct our focus in our policy frameworks, leveraging opportunities and mitigating threats.


Low Household Income: Most likely due to lower industry wages in the labor population and lower educational attainment rates, families in Boyle Heights make almost half the median income in Los Angeles, putting them at a disadvantage.

Homeownership Rate: Homeownership has been one of the best ways to build generational wealth among families. In Boyle Heights, the homeownership rate is 20.8% or 35% less than the rest of the state due to low wages forcing residents to rent.

Economic Outsourcing: With an average commute time of 30 minutes and 75% of the labor population driving to work, it can be assumed that many individuals deliver value outside the community to bring in economic resources. This shows weak initiative to bring jobs to Boyle Heights.

Non-Specialized Schools: While schools with magnet programs pull ahead in reading and math proficiency, those in non-specialized school programs suffer more than their peers in focused programs.

Crime: Crime in the neighborhood makes it harder for the residents to feel a sense of security and safety. Based on data released by the FBI in 2022, Boyle Heights is 11% above the national crime average. In addition, Boyle Heights is 88% above the national average in violent crimes and 4% lower than the national average in property crimes. Nevertheless, the high levels of crime affect the quality of life for its residents.


Education Enrollment: Boyle Heights firmly believes education is the impetus for upward economic mobility. As a result, Boyle Heights has an above-average K-12 enrollment population in a community that would otherwise have higher dropout rates.

Transit-Oriented Development: Boyle Heights’ updated community plan calls for zoning that enables dense mixed-use and affordable housing development along transit corridors. This inclusionary zoning serves Boyle Heights’ growth to serve the community with attainable rent prices, serving those who need to use it the most.

Community Unity and Organizations: The neighborhood organizations serving Boyle Heights are incredibly tied to the community's needs, as most are local. Moreover, these groups are unified in tackling important neighborhood issues such as healthy growth, affordable housing, and accessible transportation.

Local Businesses and Restaurants: Boyle Heights opposes outside gentrification efforts. As a result, the neighborhood is very cautious about what businesses in the community get to operate. This choice enables Boyle Heights to support its local economy and the residents that live there.

Historical and Cultural Significance: The rich cultural history of Boyle Heights has been sown over generations. Specifically, since Boyle Heights was the epicenter of the Chicano Movement from the 1960s through the 90s, central-American influences are highly prevalent. This is a unique, non-reproducible strength of Boyle Heights (it is the kind of cultural vibrancy that can't be synthetically fostered). This is evident in its local businesses and landmarks (for example, Candelas Guitars and Mariachi Plaza). The Boyle Heights community identifies closely with their immigrant neighbors and the role of immigration in their storied past and, therefore, works to protect the central-American presence in the community (seen through their opposition to gentrification).


Transit-Oriented Development: Along Boyle Heights’ commercial/transit corridors, you will find retail but not much residential density to support foot traffic or transit usage. As an opportunity, Boyle Heights can develop mixed-use to build foot traffic and bring ridership to public transportation services.

Magnet Schools and Career Development Programs: The best schools in Boyle Heights are the high schools that have specialized programs for topics like STEM and medicine. Investing in more of these programs could allow the community to see successful academic outcomes. Additionally, for adults who want to advance their careers or transition occupations, Boyle Heights has the opportunity to invest in career development programs that support adult education and job training.

Entertainment and Cultural Amenities: One of the problems Boyle Heights has is that educated populations who leave the community still need to return. This phenomenon might result from the area's need for more entertainment and cultural amenities. An opportunity for the neighborhood to bring in more outside revenue is to create event centers, museums, and public art displays that attract outside visitors. Tapping into the novel cultural richness of Boyle Heights could prove especially valuable in attracting tourists to spend their money in Boyle Heights.


Housing Stock Age + Quantity: One of the threats Boyle Heights will face in the coming decades is a housing stock in disrepair. With almost 40% of the housing stock being built before 1940, it is easy to see that new affordable homes must be built. Only 25% of the housing stock has been built in the last 40 years.

Anti-Gentrification Efforts: Gentrification, investment from more affluent communities into poorer neighborhoods that often alters the character and causes displacement, in low-moderate income communities can tear the community apart if the growth does not benefit those living there. In efforts to maintain a local presence, Boyle Heights has rejected housing and mixed-use projects that would bring new economic growth. If the neighborhood is still looking for a way to attract new businesses and talent to the area, change will take longer to realize.

Lack of Population Growth: Since 2000, Boyle Heights has only seen the addition of 1000 people to the neighborhood. This stagnation results from upward economic mobility, enabling those to enter more affluent neighborhoods rather than returning to the community. Additionally, the demand to retain local businesses has led the neighborhood to keep out non-local companies that might bring new jobs and economic growth.

Lack of Connection to the Regional Economy: With a focus on local businesses, Boyle Heights limits its economic growth by not allowing outside companies to operate. While protecting against the consequences of gentrification, such as displacement, benefits the residents, not bringing new jobs into the neighborhood is making the neighborhood more car-dependent and reliant on other communities.

Policy Frameworks

The goal of the policy frameworks portion of the project was to suggest strategies to address threats and weaknesses in the community by capitalizing on strengths and opportunities from our SWOT analysis. The team focused on addressing the issues of organized crime, an unaccommodating housing stock, and low economic development potential. Below are two summaries of other team members' strategies on crime and housing along with the policy framework I wrote on economic development.

Policy Framework Recommendation #1

Crime Prevention and Response

The policy framework for reducing crime in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood with a crime rate 11% above the national average, focuses on addressing the root causes of crime, particularly the influence of organized gangs on youth and the community. The proposed strategy draws inspiration from successful initiatives like President Biden's 2021 Community Violence Intervention initiative, emphasizing youth programs and gang reformation. The Comprehensive Youth Intervention Program, backed by a $15 million budget, collaborates with community organizations, law enforcement, and service providers to reduce violence, especially among youth exposed to crime.

The framework also includes the Community Safety Program, active since 2011, which has been effective in building trust between residents and law enforcement, leading to increased security and crime reduction. Another key component is the Early Intervention Program for first-time youth offenders, offering an alternative to formal juvenile justice processing, focusing on intense case management and family involvement.

Mirroring the approach of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehab, and re-entry program globally, the policy will combine elements of this successful model with the Community Safety Program and Community Violence Intervention Initiative. It aims to offer at-risk youth services to prevent violence and gang involvement, utilizing community-based organizations, service providers, and law enforcement for intervention and prevention. This holistic approach, emphasizing community involvement and leveraging local pride in small businesses, seeks to significantly reduce gang activity and violent crime in Boyle Heights, enhancing overall community safety.

Policy Framework Recommendation #2

Building Affordable Transit-Oriented Housing

The Boyle Heights Community Plan, introduced in Los Angeles in 2020, is a strategic framework aimed at combating gentrification while fostering transit-oriented housing development in Boyle Heights. Central to the plan is the preservation of multigenerational residential areas through new zoning laws that limit large luxury constructions. Recognizing the neighborhood's lower median household income, the plan leverages the Metro Gold Line's Eastside Extension and extensive bus routes to facilitate affordable and convenient transit access for residents. The plan envisions concentrated development near transit hubs, reducing reliance on carpooling and promoting affordable housing, especially along the Metro B line and Soto Street, which is identified as an ideal location due to its ample public transportation options and vacant lots. Additionally, the plan is supported by city council protections that prevent unjust evictions and rent hikes, ensuring long-term residential stability. This comprehensive approach aims to add 39,000 new housing units by 2040, making Boyle Heights a model for "Transit Affordable Housing.”

Policy Framework Recommendation #3

Local Economic Development

Boyle Heights needs more entertainment and tourism amenities. This fact makes it less attractive for young professionals, especially those from the community planning to return after college.  Additionally, the need for more job opportunities in the neighborhood, exacerbated by outsourcing jobs to other communities, significantly impedes the area's economic growth potential. Despite these challenges, Boyle Heights possesses a unique advantage in its Hispanic cultural heritage and significance, which can attract local jobs and help retain residents.

While Downtown Los Angeles, across the LA River, features prominent Hispanic cultural centers like Olvera Street and La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Boyle Heights has yet to embrace and capitalize on its rich heritage and authenticity fully. To address this, Boyle Heights could focus on developing cultural and entertainment-related amenities, thus creating a notable tourism hub.

Turning Boyle Heights into a tourist destination involves initial short-term place-making to make the area more appealing to outsiders and creating a long-term strategy to incentivize local investment into tourism-related amenities and maintain existing spaces.

In the near future, Boyle Heights can take action to make the area safer and more appealing by improving local infrastructure and preserving historic landmarks. This past year, Boyle Heights received $37.7 million in grants for pedestrian and street improvements. This money is set to make streets safer and the community more connected for pedestrians and cyclists, laying the foundation for more active streetscapes and greater access to essential destinations (My News LA). 

One of the easiest ways Boyle Heights can preserve heritage and boost tourism is through investment in the preservation of historic landmarks. An example of the neighborhood successfully preserving a landmark is the Boyle Hotel. Situated across the street from the renowned Mariachi Plaza, the Boyle Hotel stood in disrepair until 2006, when the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC) purchased the property to preserve and rehabilitate the building. ELACC would receive $24.6 million in funding across all levels of public dollars to revitalize the facade into its original appearance and provide low-income housing for the community (LA Conservancy). Additionally, removing blight from the building further increased the appeal of Mariachi Plaza. This example shows how public investment in historic preservation can be a win for a community rooted in authentic culture.

While the Boyle Hotel was saved mainly with the help of a low-interest loan in 2008, today, other potential landmarks can be saved with Opportunity Zone investment. As the policy gives tax deferrals and reductions on capital gains taxes, Opportunity Zones serve as an option to incentivize investment in rehabilitation and tourism-related projects.

In supplement to new tourist and entertainment attractions, Boyle Heights has the opportunity to accommodate overnight visitors through building lodging, which might bring in bed tax revenues to invest in other projects. The only issue is that the zoning around key cultural attractions, such as Mariachi Plaza and the cross-section Cezar E Chavez and Soto Street, only allows for hotel usage if they are designated for mixed-use. Adding this use to entertainment-focused nodes in the community would be beneficial to accommodate overnight visitors.

The last placemaking decision Boyle Heights could take to support local businesses and foster culture-oriented tourism nodes is to designate a Tourism Improvement District (TID). TIDs can enhance the area's visibility and sponsor events to attract overnight visitors, potentially boosted by investments in lodging. A TBID could also contribute to a safer environment; in Los Angeles, such districts have been associated with an 11% decrease in serious crimes and a 32% reduction in arrests, making TIDs an attractive option for Boyle Heights (Department of Transportation). In short, TIDs can garner attraction to local businesses and cultural amenities while reducing crime.

When creating a long-term strategy to supply the capital to tourism and entertainment-related projects, Boyle Heights has a few options, such as creating loan and grant programs for small businesses and prioritizing community development projects through opportunity zones.

In San Diego, the city is investing in multiple funds that supply loans to small businesses that might not get a traditional loan because of their credit history but have a good business plan. These funds have given small businesses the capital they need to get off the ground and helped the local small business community prosper (Western Cities). The City of LA and the Boyle Heights neighborhood have the opportunity to create funds to support the tight-knit local businesses community of Boyle Heights. As undocumented immigrants run many small businesses and those that don’t meet the criteria to secure traditional loans, a loan program with lower barriers to entry could enable small businesses to grow in the neighborhood, thus creating new employment opportunities and better wages. Moreover, companies receiving capital from the underground market will not have to deal with the intimidation and predatory practices of gangs. This will be crucial to solving the violent crime occurring behind closed doors.

Final Thoughts

I wrote this case study as part of a semester-long class assignment in my Housing and Community Development class. The project focused on conducting a SWOT analysis for a Los Angeles neighborhood. We would then apply what we learned from the class and neighborhood research to develop policy frameworks to support our assigned community best. Our team of five tackled the Boyle Heights neighborhood nestled just east of Downtown. In this case study, you will find a neighborhood profile and SWOT analysis on Boyle Heights before transitioning to our team’s proposed policy frameworks.

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