Transforming Tiki Apartments

IMG_1753What used to be a seedy motel in Walnut Park is being transformed into an $11.6-million permanent supportive housing community for homeless adults with special needs.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for Tiki Apartments, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas declared, “It brings me great joy to bear witness to the transformation of this site into state-of-the-art affordable housing.”

IMG_1758“I can think of no better use for this property as I believe there is no more critical, urgent or moral issue that requires our collective attention than the homeless crisis,” he added.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office set aside $500,000 of Los Angeles County’s Homeless Prevention Initiative funds for the project being built on the site of the former Tiki Motel, which appeared in the blockbuster movie The Terminator.

Once construction is completed in December, Tiki Apartments will have 35 affordable rental units for homeless adults with special needs who had been heavily dependent on medical care provided by the County Department of Health Services (DHS).

As tenants, they would be eligible for supportive services that should help them attain greater levels of stability, independence and economic security. This includes case management, mental health care, primary and preventive health care, substance abuse treatment, and financial and life skills training.

IMG_1759The development will also include amenities such as a courtyard, outdoor fitness area, on-site laundry and gardening plots, all intended to promote wellness, self-sufficiency and community.

It is Meta Housing Corp.’s eighth project in the Second District, with four additional deals pending.

“With the support of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and the County’s Community Development Commission and DHS, we are going to create 35 new units at Tiki Apartments that will move people off of the streets and into permanent supportive housing,” Meta Housing project manager Brian “Ross” Ferrera said. “This is a much more efficient use of County resources, as it would permanently house these residents in safe and comfortable housing and stop the cycle of going in and out of emergency rooms and temporary shelters.”

Meta Housing President Kasey Burke added, “The need for permanent supportive housing is greater than ever and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and the County of Los Angeles are showing tremendous leadership to help tackle this problem and provide the necessary resources to house our most needy population.”

John Stewart Company has been tapped to manage Tiki Apartments, while DHS will partner with the nonprofit Western Community Housing, Inc. to provide supportive services.

Also present at the groundbreaking ceremony were Community Development Commission Executive Director Sean Rogan, DHS’s Housing for Health Program Director Marc Trotz and Western Community Housing, Inc. President Graham Espley-Jones.

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Harriet Paves the Way

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority paid homage to a civil rights heroine while preparing to clear a path for the Crenshaw/LAX Line about 80 feet beneath South Los Angeles.

Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas led a dedication ceremony on February 1st to name the Line’s tunnel boring machine (TBM) after abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who delivered dozens of slaves into freedom via a network of secret routes and safe houses called the Underground Railroad.

MVA_1658“I can think of no better way to kick off Black History Month than to name the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s tunnel boring machine after Harriet Tubman, the legendary conductor of the Underground Railroad,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “I am confident that this marvel of engineering now known as ‘Harriet’ will carry on its namesake’s legacy of forging new paths to greater opportunities.”

Like ships, TBMs are named before being put to work for the first time, to bring good luck.

With a front end resembling a 20-foot tall cheese grater, and as long as 10 school buses placed end-to-end, “Harriet” still has to be lowered underground, and then assembled over several weeks. It would then spend just over a year drilling twin mile-long tunnels to connect three underground train stations where Crenshaw Boulevard intersects with Exposition Boulevard; Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard; and Vernon Ave. near Leimert Park. The Line ascends to street level beyond that point.

“Today is about more than just launching the tunnel boring machine, it is about the promise we have made to help our communities move forward,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “The Crenshaw/LAX Line will serve riders who have been historically underserved and, in doing so, it will ease congestion and get Angelenos to the people and places they love.”

Slated for completion in 2019, the 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX Line would be the first to serve the Crenshaw District and Inglewood since streetcars were decommissioned in the 1950’s.

MVA_1367It will have eight stations – the northernmost connecting to the Expo Line, and southernmost to the Green Line, where passengers will be able to  get on a people mover to the Los Angeles International Airport. It is projected to have a daily ridership of 13,000 to 16,000.

Metro held a contest to name and embellish its TBM. Students submitted more than 230 essays and artworks, which drew 50,000 votes online. Harriet, proposed by 11th grader Calvin Mosely of City Honors High School in Inglewood, emerged as the crowd favorite. The winning artwork was a colorful drawing by 3rd grader Brittany Hernandez of Lloyd Owen Knox Elementary School in Los Angeles.

In honor of the TBM, local restaurants Earlez Grill, Brooklyn Deli, Jordan’s Hot Dogs and Southern Girl Desserts have each named a dish “Harriet.” Metro Board member and Inglewood Mayor James Butts said Metro would continue to provide support to businesses along the route while construction is ongoing and thanked the businesses for their patience.

“The progress we’re seeing today is only the first of many exciting milestones we’ll experience in 2016,” said Metro CEO Phillip Washington. “In March, the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa will open and in late spring we will cut the ribbon on the Metro Expo Line extension to Santa Monica. These developments demonstrate that investment in transportation moves our County forward now and in the future.”

Rendering of the Leimert Park Station, which will be underground.

Rendering of the Leimert Park Station, which will be underground.

Venturing into Skid Row for the Homeless Count

Vowing to address what he called the “defining civil rights issue of our time,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas ventured into Skid Row on the final night of the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count to help estimate the number of people living on the streets or in temporary shelters.

“We are faced with a homeless crisis that is the product of decades of structural deficits in affordable housing, employment and community investment,” he said in a press conference at the Los Angeles Mission before canvassing a three-block neighborhood dotted with makeshift tents. “We can’t give up on this fight – we can’t and we won’t.”

During this year’s Count, more than 7,500 volunteers canvassed almost 2,000 census tracts spanning about 95 percent of Los Angeles County over two nights and a day. Conducted by the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), it is the most exhaustive survey of the local homeless population – second only to the US Census in size and scope.

The Count provides an estimate of the number of people staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as well as those living in places not meant for human habitation, such as vehicles, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings.  The data is used to develop a better understanding of the demographics and needs of the homeless population, and to secure funding that would help them secure permanent housing and support services.

“It’s the human spirit inside of us that says, ‘Let’s help our brothers and sisters out,'” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who also volunteered for the Count along with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Last year’s Count estimated the homeless population countywide at 41,174 – a 12 percent increase from 2013. Skid Row alone accounts for almost 4,000, and 2,500 of them live within the boundaries of the Second District.

Altogether, one in three homeless persons throughout Los Angeles County can be found in the Second District.

“We must and we will confront this issue head-on if we are to make any inroads,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “I am morally outraged by the statistics – that is why I feel such a sense of urgency.”

He has taken a three-pronged approach to addressing homelessness:

  • Building strong and coordinated crisis response systems that are comprehensive, inclusive and evidence-informed
  • Creating affordable housing with, if necessary, supportive services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, and job training and placement, in partnership with community-based organizations
  • Increasing access to income by raising wages and spurring economic development that creates jobs easily accessible through public transit

Last summer, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis to fund and create four outreach teams just for Skid Row. Composed of County health professionals, LAHSA outreach workers and formerly homeless persons, the teams try to connect the homeless to County-funded medical, mental health and substance use services and supportive housing.

The County is also funding rapid rehousing subsidies and services for homeless persons who can be connected to employment or other sources of income and become stable after a shorter period of assistance. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office has also dedicated funds for homeless women on Skid Row, to ensure they are taken off the streets and out of harm’s way as quickly as possible, and into stable housing.

The County is in the midst of preparing a comprehensive plan for addressing the crisis of homelessness, and recently held public hearings to solicit community input.

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Metro Line to Goal Line

image006 (1)With the Rams back in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to make sure fans can catch a ride to the games, as well as to the various entertainment, dining and retail centers expected to pop up around the stadiums.

“The bottom line is the return of the National Football League will bring tremendous economic opportunity and civic pride to the entire region,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the Metro Board of Directors, which he chairs. “Facilitating the transport of thousands of spectators for games and other events will require significant synergy within our growing transportation system.”

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LA County Supervisor, Metro Board Chairman and Coliseum Commission President Mark Ridley-Thomas with Rams owner Stan Kroenke

The Rams are building an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, not far from Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Line, which should have trains running by 2019. Stadium, slated for completion in 2019, will be the centerpiece of the City of Champions Revitalization Project, which includes a performance venue, hotel, restaurants, shops, parks, and thousands of residential units.

Until then, the Rams and USC Trojans will share the Coliseum near Metro’s Expo Line. There is an option for either the Charger or Raiders to join them. In 2018, they will be neighbors with Los Angeles Football Club, which is building a soccer stadium at the former Sports Arena.

To look at strategies for connecting commuters to the stadiums, the Metro Board approved a Ridley-Thomas motion to create a “Metro Line to Goal Line” task force.

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Rendering of renovated LA Memorial Coliseum

Coauthored by Inglewood Mayor James Butts, Supervisor Michael Antonovich and Duarte Councilman John Fasana, the motion also called for ensuring Metro can accommodate a possible surge in ridership. It also called for promoting public transit to events, and expediting development projects in surrounding neighborhoods.

The Metro Board approved a separate motion to consider building a new north-south light rail line, potentially along Prairie Avenue. This would link both the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Green Line to the City of Champions Revitalization Project, and extend into the South Bay.

“Creating ‘transit oriented communities’ means making sure our transportation system serves emerging communities and job centers,” Supervisor and Metro Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said.

Inglewood Mayor and Metro Director Butts was the lead author of the motion, with Ridley Thomas, Antonovich, Fasana, and Supervisors Don Knabe and Sheila Kuehl as co-authors.

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Rendering of Rams stadium in Inglewood

Celebrating Innovative Housing for the Homeless

15295253018_0130f1b7f6_z (1)Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas awarded a scroll recognizing an honor bestowed upon the Skid Row Housing Trust, whose Star Apartments project made it to TIME Magazine’s list of the 25 Best Inventions of 2015.

“Enhancing the pipeline of quality affordable housing for all residents, especially our most vulnerable, has become one of the most pressing issues of our time,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The homeless crisis that exists in Los Angeles County requires a bold new vision and Star Apartments is a defining example of what can and must be done.”

TIME Magazine noted that most housing projects for the homeless tend to look like warehouses but that’s not the case with Star Apartments, designed by architect Michael Maltzan.

Completed in 2014 along a border of Skid Row, it features 102 prefabricated studios ingeniously stacked atop a medical clinic on the ground floor, as well as a Health and Wellness Center with a garden and outdoor running track on the second floor.

The Trust’s CEO Mike Alvidrez said Star Apartments represents “tremendous innovation happening in our own backyard.” He added, “We are happy to be able to effectuate solutions to homelessness right here in Los Angeles County to the admiration of the rest of the country.”

A nonprofit organization, the Trust is one of the largest providers of permanent supportive housing in Southern California, maintaining more than 1,800 units at 26 locations. It built Star Apartments with support from the public and private sectors, including $400,000 in funding from the Office of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

Star Apartments serves as the headquarters of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services’ Housing for Health program, which identifies frequent users of the public health system and puts them in permanent supportive housing. By putting a roof over their heads, and providing them with much-needed medical and psychiatric care, the program helps people avoid multiple costly trips to the E.R. and enables them to attain greater levels of stability, independence and economic security.

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