April 1, 2023

Seven miles south of downtown Sacramento is Lehman Hill, an unrelated “census site” whose name brightly belies its struggles.

The Lemon Hill residential street is a mix of square apartment buildings and early-stage bungalows with barred windows. The main streets of Stockton Boulevard and 47th Avenue are home to industrial warehouses, hardware stores, and more than a few Asian restaurants and grocery stores.

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For residents, the area is Little Saigon, a hub for Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants who have settled in the city in recent decades. There are noodle shops and restaurants and a large Vietnamese supermarket. There are a few cemeteries and a few motels that rent rooms out on a weekly basis. On Lemon Hill Avenue, several churches and parish offices stand amidst abandoned, overgrown land surrounded by a sharp chain link fence. In recent years, the swaths have become a place to stomp.

About a third of Lemon Hill’s 15,000 residents live below the poverty line, and the median household income is just under $40,000 per year (compared to $69,400 in Sacramento). It’s not as bad as parts of the Central Valley or far north of the state or some desert town near the Salton Sea. Lemon Hill is just another trouble community. High crime; Gangs, prostitutes and drug dealers fill the corners; and life from paycheck to paycheck makes those who will move.

Now, as the two-year pandemic lockdown draws to a close, Lemon Hill residents, like those in working-class communities in California, are grappling with sticker shock at record prices. Inflation affects consumer purchasing power in ways not seen for nearly half a century. The price of meat alone has increased 16% in the last year. Gas prices hovered around $6 per gallon and utilities continued to climb. For individuals and families without a financial cushion, when basic foodstuffs go up in price, bills go unpaid, textbooks and prescription drugs aren’t bought, and life is a constant worry.

Talk to the guys in Lemon Hill and you’ll hear that it’s getting harder and harder to stay afloat.

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