Supervisors Approve $15 Million More for Affordable Housing

Epworth Apartments on Normandie Avenue.  Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

Epworth Apartments on Normandie Avenue.  Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

The preservation and creation of affordable housing has been a longstanding goal of the county and its 88 cities, but the demise of redevelopment agencies delivered a blow to low-income residents struggling in one of the nation’s most difficult housing markets; the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $1,447 — far more than one-third of take-home pay for 40 percent of Angelenos.

Acting on a joint motion by Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina, the Board of Supervisors unanimously reaffirmed the county’s commitment to providing permanent housing for low-income residents, recently approving a motion to transfer $15 million to the Community Development Corporation for affordable housing in Los Angeles County.

Supervisors Molina and Ridley-Thomas had urged the board to set aside $75 million for five years, $15 million of which would be allocated this year, but voted to postpone allocating the remaining $60 million until the annual budget process begins — just a few weeks.

Both Supervisors Molina and Ridley-Thomas urged the balance of the board to dedicate the total amount available to affordable housing.

“I am advocating for and committed to affordable housing having top priority consideration for the use of these resources,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “On any given night in Los Angeles County, over 50,000 homeless individuals live on the streets. The majority have untreated illnesses or disabilities, so affordable housing can and must be the priority. It has implications for our communities and workforce dynamics.”

“I think what’s important is that this is not money that should be allocated in a different direction…I’m hoping we’re not going to layer this with all kind of other competing interests,” said Supervisor Molina.

[raw]

Hope Street Family Center courtesy of Abode Communities.

Affordable housing advocates cheered passage of the motion, noting the significant challenges they face since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies.

“The loss of redevelopment housing funds has had a significant impact on the production and preservation of affordable housing,” said affordable housing developer Robin Hughes, the president of Abode Communities committed to affordable housing communities in Los Angeles.

[/raw]

In October of last year, acting on a joint motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $11 million in funding for affordable housing projects that is expected to result in approximately 176 new units. Through the Community Development Commission’s work, the county has created over 10,000 affordable units.

“This funding is critically important to low income communities and people with special needs,” said Dora Gallo, chief executive of A Community of Friends, a nonprofit agency that develops affordable housing. “While other cities and counties are still trying to figure out what to do with the loss of redevelopment funds, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Molina have taken action.”

Homeless Count 2013

As the stars began to shine in the night sky Thursday, more than two dozen volunteers gathered around the table in the education room at Holman United Methodist Church in the West Adams neighborhood, eagerly waiting to hit the streets.

“We’re gonna get this done tonight, are we not?” said their site trainer Carolyn Fowler.

“Yes!” the group cheered.

The group was among the 5,000 volunteers who turned out in late January to participate in the 2013 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) biennial homeless count , which seeks to locate and count the men, women and children living in cars and tents, makeshift shelters or sleeping out in the open. During the four-day event, volunteers fanned out throughout Los Angeles County and covered more than 1,400 census tracts, making it the largest turnout ever in the biennial count’s fifth year history. Volunteers, who received training on how to identify homeless people and count them correctly without making assumptions about people who happened to be loitering or near makeshift shelter, were given pre-determined census tracts to canvass.

The count is essential for understanding and tracking how many people are living on the streets and what kind of services and housing will best help them in secure permanent shelter. In 2011, the effort revealed that more than 51,000 people in the county are homeless. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort by cities and the county to improve homeless services and become pro-active in getting people the help they need, said G. Michael Arnold, executive director of LAHSA.

“Local cities are really stepping up and trying to understand homelessness in their communities,” said Arnold. “They are trying to find solutions.”

Individuals, like Holman Senior Pastor, Rev. Kelvin Sauls, are also stepping up.

“We want to be with our brothers and sisters who happen to be homeless,” he said before the group began the count.

Ashley Wilson, who is making a documentary about the homeless, noted that homelessness is not a faraway concept in our society.
“It can happen to anyone,” she said.

Indeed, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas , who joined the group of volunteers in West Adams and Leimert Park, reminded volunteers that being homeless does not diminish a person’s right to compassion and care, saying, “We share a common belief that the dignity and worth of all people matters. They are God’s people and created in his image and likeness.”

The volunteers then fanned out across South Los Angeles until midnight, blanketing the area, using flashlights and maps to try to find homeless people living in parks, cars, trailers or alleys. Remnants of belongings, blankets, clothing, tents, bottles of vodka or beer, often were giveaways for encampments that had been temporarily abandoned. But by midnight, dozens of homeless people would appear in Leimert Park seeking safety in numbers under the brightly lit park palms.

As the Supervisor stood in night shadows of Leimert Park, an area that had suffered a long period of neglect but was redesigned when he was on the Los Angeles City Council in the 1990s, he noted the poignancy of seeing former classmates from his school days at Manual Arts High School, on the streets. Drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness or misfortune such as a health crisis or losing a home, play a large role in the downward spiral of many who never expect to find themselves sleeping out of doors, he said, adding, “It doesn’t get more real than this . These are members of our family, friends and associates, black, brown, yellow, red and white. This is sobering.”

As he ventured out of the park, a man who identified himself as A.J. approached. A.J., it turned out had been chronically homeless years ago and someone who Jeanette Rowe, director of homeless services for LAHSA, had met on the streets 20 years ago in Venice and Santa Monica.

Rowe, who was accompanying the Supervisor on the count, spoke of the long effort to help A.J. transition to indoor living.
“I tried so hard to get him into a shelter,” she recalled. “He told me how much he hated it and I said, ‘OK, you go back there and tell me tomorrow how much you hate it.’ After 90 days in the shelter, it is really hard to return to the street. You’ve lost your step.”

Today, A.J. has an apartment and is living with government assistance. He was selling recorders in the park and seemed to be doing well.

“Years ago, he was a mess,” said Rowe. And then as he walked away, giving her his telephone number, she smiled. One less person was on the street. She had done her job. “It is very rewarding to see that.”

Supervisors greenlight affordable housing for Willowbrook

A 1.72-acre of land, where four abandoned houses have been the site of blight and a source of nuisance in the Willowbrook community soon will be transformed into a new 55-unit affordable housing complex.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors authorized a conditional use housing permit championed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, which grants A Community of Friends, a non-profit affordable housing developer, the rights to demolish the residences and construct a 55-unit affordable housing complex on Avalon Boulevard in Willowbrook.

[pullquote_right] “This facility will be a significant asset to the Willowbrook community,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. [/pullquote_right]Thirty seven of the units will be designated for individuals and their families who are homeless and living with mental illness, 17-units for low-income families, and one unit will house the property manager. The complex also will house amenities and on-site supportive services for daily living such as budgeting and cooking classes, a part-time medical clinic provided by the T.H.E. Clinic, a children’s play area, patio area, a community garden, a computer room, and a community room for tenant movie nights.

“This facility will be a significant asset to the Willowbrook community,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This complex has great potential to not only meet the immediate housing needs of its residents but to profoundly transform their lives with the host of on-site amenities and services available to them.”

The housing development is part of a larger development strategy, spearheaded by the Supervisor, to merge public and private investment in the area, and to create a village of housing, retail, and public services within walking distance for the residents of Willowbrook.

Other developments in the area include: a new $7.5-million East Rancho Dominguez Library currently under construction on the corner of East Rose Street and South Atlantic, the Delores McCoy Villa affordable housing project, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health, and the new Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center and the Community Hospital that are currently underway on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Center campus. In total over $500 million in County funds has been invested into the Willowbrook area.

Construction of the $17.9 million project is scheduled to begin in Spring 2013. The project is being funded with monies from the state’s Mental Health Services Act, awarded by the County of Los Angeles, the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program, public sector resources, private investment, and a commercial bank loan.
Once completed, the housing development will meet Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Certification and will include energy efficient appliances, water conservation methods, and solar technology.

A Community of Friends’ mission is to end homelessness by providing quality permanent supportive housing for people with mental illness. To date, the non-profit that was founded 24 years ago has completed 38 affordable apartment buildings for people with special needs.

Board of Supervisors guarantees millions for affordable housing for veterans and other special populations

The dissolution of redevelopment agencies throughout the state has resulted in an alarming retreat from funding commitments for low- and moderate-income housing. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, however, continues to ensure the development of affordable housing—in particular for veterans, homeless people and other special needs populations.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Board took an unchartered pathway to move forward six housing developments for mentally ill and homeless people, and homeless and mentally ill veterans, developmentally disabled people, and seniors living with HIV/AIDS.

On a motion brought by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina, the Board unanimously voted to release $13.5 million of tax increment monies the County received from the City of Industry. The money will go to developments that were in limbo after redevelopment agencies were forced by the state to shut their doors. The Board guaranteed that same amount from the general fund, should state and local oversight entities decide to block transmittal of the City of Industry monies for the projects. The move sets 267 housing units on the road to completion.

The County does not expect to have to use its general fund monies, but the guarantee was essential. It enables developers of the projects to meet a March 22 deadline to apply for state tax credits that will fill funding gaps in their projects.

Dozens of veterans turned out to support the motion and cheered its passage.

Juventino “J.” Gomez, mayor pro tem of El Monte told the Board that as a disabled veteran and father of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is grateful they had a home to return to. Thousands of men and women, however, return from deployments with psychological problems and no where to go, he said. “I just encourage this board to continue to support these men and women—our American soldiers,” Gomez said. One project that will benefit from the Supervisors’ action is an affordable housing development in South Los Angeles operated by the non-profit organization A Community of Friends. The agency will receive $1.5 million to rehabilitate 48 units for people with mental illnesses.

“All members of our community – especially those with mental illnesses – are entitled to high quality and environmentally efficient housing,” said Dora Leong Gallo, chief executive officer of A Community of Friends. “It is the basic right to housing that is most critical in allowing the most sensitive members of our communities to not only rehabilitate, but to thrive”.

“We have an obligation to see these projects through,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We have funds from the City of Industry that were designated for this specific purpose, and today we have put them to their highest and best use.”

In a related matter, the Board also allocated $5.8 million for a new 72-unit housing development; Terracina Apartments on West Imperial Highway in the unincorporated area of Athens.

The loan, which is administered by the Community Development Commission to fund construction of the project, permits AMCAL, the developer of the Terracina Apartments, to go to the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC) to apply for a $8.68 million tax credit to bridge its remaining funding gap for the $24.2 million development.

“Our strong partnership with L.A. County was essential in moving this development forward during these difficult economic times,” said AMCAL President Arjun Nagarkatti. “Our goal is to build attractive, new housing to spark more investment in the neighborhood, and the families will be empowered to improve their lives and create a stronger community.”

Once fully funded, AMCAL can begin construction. The complex will include multi-family dwellings, a social service office, a community room and a recreation area for children to play. AMCAL will collaborate with nonprofit groups LifeSteps and United Friends of the Children, to provide health, mental health, substance abuse, and case management services on-site for residents.

“Despite the dissolution of redevelopment agencies throughout the state, the Board remains steadfast in bringing affordable housing complexes to the County of Los Angeles,” the Supervisor said. “This project is one example of our commitment.”

As part of the loan agreement for construction of the Terracina Apartments, each unit will be affordable to low-income households earning no more than 50% of the median income for the Los Angeles Metropolitan area. In addition, 15 units will be reserved for young adults who have recently transitioned out of the foster care system.

Kobe Bryant and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas join over 10,000 participants mobilized to end homelessness in Los Angeles County

United Way of Greater Los Angeles hosted the fifth Annual HomeWalk to end homelessness, a 5k run and walk commencing in Exposition Park, in downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, the event’s Honorary Chair, kicked off the event that featured approximately 10,000 participants. With over 51,000 homeless men and women in Los Angeles County, nearly one-quarter of which are chronically homeless, United Way and its partners are working to drive community awareness and action as part of its year-round campaign to prevent and end homelessness. Over the past four years, HomeWalk has mobilized 18,000 walkers, raised $1.7 million and moved 9,000 people into permanent housing.

“For the fifth year, thousands of Angelenos presented a united front against homelessness – collectively saying that the current situation in Los Angeles County is unacceptable. It is crucial that our residents tell elected officials that they are outraged and want this issue solved. HomeWalk gives them that platform,” said Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “Our communities are suffering, and we know that by mobilizing Angelenos we can continue to raise funds and awareness to create pathways out of poverty, getting the homeless into permanent housing.”

Homeless statistics in Los Angeles County:

  • Over 51,000 homeless people are in Los Angeles County; 18% are veterans
  • 40% of those homeless are women and children
  • Nearly one-quarter of those homeless (24%) are chronically homeless
  • 67% are unsheltered, living on the streets or in cars
  • Almost one third (32%) of homeless people in Los Angeles have a bachelors degree or higher
  • One of the leading reasons for homelessness is the loss of a job; unemployment in the Country is in double digits
  • Over half our households spend over 30% of income on rent, so just one crisis can push a family into homelessness

“Kobe Bryant has helped us reach more residents concerned about fighting homelessness, and his charity has done great work with homeless children. With the support of celebrities like Kobe, our public officials and Los Angeles County residents, we can make a difference,” continued Buik. The event commenced in downtown Los Angeles’ Exposition Park with elected officials and thousands of participants beginning the Walk at Figueroa street. The 5k route led participants through an educational journey displaying sobering scenes that illustrate homelessness and the long journey to permanent housing.

“I am touched to see that so many people are raising money for us,” said Trevor, a homeless man who was at the HomeWalk 2011. “I have been living on the streets for three years and thanks to all of the HomeWalk participants, I believe that someday, I will have a permanent house.”

The county-wide epidemic of homelessness is one of United Way’s core priorities to create pathways out of poverty.  HomeWalk is part of United Way’s pledge to raise the public awareness and fund solutions to end homelessness. For more information please go to www.homewalkla.org.

About United Way of Greater Los Angeles

United Way of Greater Los Angeles is committed to creating pathways out of poverty so that everyone who lives in our communities can have a better quality of life. We are focused on providing long-term solutions in the 3 interconnected areas, which are the root causes of poverty.

What is HomeWalk?
HomeWalk is United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ annual 5K Run/Walk to End Homelessness. Each year thousands join together to do their part by fundraising and spreading the word that homelessness is a solvable problem.

Why HomeWalk?
In Los Angeles County 51,000 people are homeless. Over the past 4 years, HomeWalk has mobilized 18,000 walkers, raised $1.7 million and funded organizations that have moved 9,000 people into permanent housing.  All proceeds go directly back to the community, supporting permanent solutions to end homelessness for chronically homeless people, veterans and families.

How Can We End Homelessness?
The number one reason for homelessness is loss of a job. With our region’s unemployment at the highest it’s been in a decade it’s not surprising that we are the homeless capital of the nation and that 40% of the homeless population are women and children.

We can end chronic, veteran and family homelessness by moving people into housing quickly while giving them the necessary services to remain there. Solutions such as permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing have proven highly successful in citied such as New York and Denver. In Los Angeles County the solutions we support have over 85% success at keeping people off the streets for good with a 43% cost savings for tax-payers.

HomeWalk is an opportunity for our community to come together to raise funds and hope for a better future. Join us by participating, volunteering and/or recruiting others. Together we will end homelessness.

(SOURCE United Way of Greater Los Angeles.)