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The story of Los Angeles’ last Japanese boarding house

Rooming houses or boarding houses are a divisive topic. Here in Toronto, they are permitted in the older parts of the city, but illegal everywhere else. Since 2021, we have been talking about changing that in attempt to increase the supply of what is typically the most affordable kind of housing. But there are lots of people who want to “protect the integrity of single-family communities”, and so a decision on this issue has been, as I understand it, punted until sometime next year. At some point, I suspect a decision will be made (though deferring is also a decision).

While we wait, this recent piece by journalist and photographer Samanta Helou Hernandez tells an interesting story of Los Angeles’ last Japanese boarding house. But as you’ll see from her article, it’s labeled as a boarding house, but it really acted as a kind of community center. Boarding houses in this community have, over the years, served as a place for people to get back on their feet (after returning from internment camps following WWII) and as a place where they could speak their own language and build community.

Looking back on the history of the area, it’s hard to fathom being comfortable with some of the exclusionary policies that were in place at that time, which effectively blocked immigrants and people of color from moving to certain areas. Then again, I’m sure posterity will look back on some of decisions being made today and wonder what we were thinking.

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