In a move to promote regional empowerment, hub cities have formed an economic development coalition to tackle social problems in the area.
Leaders of the eight-city region represented by Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate and Vernon announced the opening of the Southeast Community Development Corp. earlier this month.
The nonprofit economic development group, which is housed at Bell's City Hall, will work toward helping residents with housing issues, improving transportation, promoting area business and expanding education options.
From the industrial cities of Commerce and Vernon to bedroom cities such as Bell and Maywood, "we are homogeneous from one city to the next," said Bell Councilman George Mirabal , who is the corporation's president.
"With the exception of Vernon we have the same makeup of people. We were bound to get together."
About 90% of the region's population of 300,000 is Latino.
The organization, the brainchild of Assemblywoman Martha S. Escutia (D-Huntington Park), is composed of a series of partnerships that include representatives from each of the municipalities' city councils, business leaders and social service groups, such as the Old Timers Foundation.
"The cities are really competitive, so in the beginning that was an obstacle," said Dolores Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the assemblywoman. "Once we brought them to the table, they saw the benefits of a coalition for themselves."
The area saw a gradual decline in the economy in the last decade, losing thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue as industry left the region. At the same time, the makeup of the population shifted from working-class whites to young immigrants.
Those immigrants are looking for ways to buy a home. There are about 24,000 homeowners and 46,000 renters in the region, according to a report by the Southern California Assn. of Governments.
According to Dataquick Information Systems, a La Jolla-based realty information company, South Gate is the most popular area with Latino home buyers in Los Angeles County. Bell, Commerce, Huntington Park and Maywood were also among the top 25 communities most popular with Latinos.
Roman Gwin, executive director of the community group, has started courting area banks that have mortgage programs.
"We are too small right now to help with financing. But we are acting as an information clearinghouse for the programs that are already available," Gwin said, adding that the development corporation hopes to establish a financial base in order to help residents build homes.
Information: (213) 588-6211, Ext. 239.