A Housing Development To Honor Japanese Americans

Capital One supports the construction of affordable housing that will match Little Tokyo’s rich cultural history

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 confining more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry in overcrowded internment camps across the country. Japanese Americans were forced to abandon millions of dollars in property as they were sent to these camps. Despite the humiliating conditions, more than 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the military with distinction, with many risking their lives in combat to prove their loyalty and to honor their families. 

These days, the memory of that time has been enshrined in the Little Tokyo District of Los Angeles, CA through the “Go For Broke” memorial put up by the Go For Broke National Education Center, a stirring granite monument engraved with the names of more than 16,000 Japanese American men and women who served for the United States during World War II. “Go For Broke” is the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team made up of Japanese Americans—who were the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the entire history of the U.S. military—reflects the willingness, sacrifice, and valor of soldiers willing to risk it all in one effort. 

Since the late 1800s, the area around the “Go for Broke” memorial had been home to Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans who helped the area thrive. After they were put in internment camps and the area became a ghost town, World War II’s progression brought about a need for war workers. An influx of Black Americans, many from the Deep South, later moved into the area which became known as Bronzeville. Seventy years on, gentrification has encroached in the area, with legacy businesses fighting to stay in their spaces. 

Little Tokyo Service Center—a nonprofit providing a comprehensive array of social welfare and community development services to assist low income individuals and other persons in need— has been helping to preserve Japantown and working to increase affordable and supportive housing in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. The neighborhood is in a health catchment area where homeless people have historically been steered with more than 11,860 men, women, and children living on the streets. In some cases, elderly tenants have also received notices from landlords that they may discontinue seeking federal subsidies needed to keep buildings affordable. What’s more, a 2019 McKinsey snapshot of affordable housing in the greater Los Angeles area found that while the City of LA leads the state in housing production, only about nine percent of new units added after 2014 have been affordable to households earning less than the area median income. 

“This part of town has always been the heart of Little Tokyo,” said Takao Suzuki, Director of Community Development at the Little Tokyo Service Center. The center has plans to create a new mixed-use, transit-oriented development featuring a total of 246 affordable housing units, with supportive housing set-asides for homeless veterans and over 40,000 square feet of commercial spaces for legacy small businesses as well as arts and cultural spaces that enhance the neighboring Union Center for the Arts, home to the oldest Asian American theatre group in the country. 

Suzuki added, “Because of gentrification, it feels like we have significantly less dedicated spaces for legacy businesses. With the increased anti-Asian sentiment taking place in America due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel that having a more positive and visible project like our Go For Broke Development is a good way to pay tribute and assert our presence in our community. Telling the story of the Go For Broke unit allows us to weave in a narrative that educates and challenges what we’re going through as a community.”

Little Tokyo was selected for Capital One's Blueprints to Buildings program, which provides  grant support and pre-development loans to fund construction of affordable housing. Through this catalytic investment in the Go For Broke project, Little Tokyo Service Center will be able to bring about 240 new affordable apartments to a rapidly gentrifying area and preserve its cultural heritage. Capital One was the first private investor to support this important project, which will provide a “cultural pathway” that utilizes arts and a culture-based strategy to establish greater connectivity throughout the neighborhood. The project will complement the Go For Broke monument by providing an interpretive center on the ground floor of the building, where the Go For Broke National Education Center will educate the public about the experience of Japanese American World War II veterans.

“I’m thrilled that Capital One can take part in helping to complement Little Tokyo’s rich history,” said Mariadele Priest, Senior Director of Community Impact & Investment at Capital One. “The opportunity to provide much-needed affordable housing to meet existing demand and future needs is something that grounds us in the work we do every day.” 

The Go For Broke project is among several initiatives that Capital One has leaned into to support the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. In June, the company wrapped up an associate donation match through its Origins Business Resource Group and the Impact Initiative to partner with four organizations advocating for the API community. The Capital One Impact Initiative was built on three pillars: 1) advocating for an inclusive society, 2) building thriving communities and 3) creating financial tools that enrich lives. Advocating for an inclusive society means being a champion for equal treatment and opportunity of groups and individuals in order to drive meaningful change. The partner organizations include Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC); Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF); National Coalition of Asian Pacific American Community Development (NCAPACD); and OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates.

Previously in May, Capital One held 16 multicultural events during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to showcase the community as more than just a monolith. Those events featured discussions where associates shared their perspectives on life and identity; conversations with government officials about API representation in public office;  discussions about Asian identities in Media with Actor and Activist Daniel Dae Kim; and mentorship opportunities. 

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