Supervisors Champion $100M Annually for Affordable Housing

Alarmed by Los Angeles County’s dire shortage of affordable housing units, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan aimed at raising as much as $100 million annually to build or preserve such units for low-income and vulnerable populations.

The County currently has a shortage of 527,000 affordable housing units, and an estimated 44,000 people homeless on any given night.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board voted to create an Affordable Housing Program that would be endowed with $20 million in July and grow incrementally until leveling off at $100 million by 2020.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said increased public investment is critical to alleviating the affordable housing crisis, because every $1 invested by Los Angeles County attracts about $4 in matching funds from private developers. Such collaboration has helped build almost 2,000 affordable housing units in the Second District since 2009.

“The lack of affordable housing has created a toll on hundreds of thousands of Angelenos – it’s put many on the brink of homelessness and jeopardizes our residents’ quality of life,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“The current pace of public investment is simply insufficient,” he added. “We can meaningfully address this crisis, but so will require a comprehensive strategy and scaled-up investment, which must be implemented with urgency.‎”

The remedy for homelessness is homes,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “We need to prevent families from falling into homelessness by providing affordable workforce housing and we need to provide rapid avenues back to permanent housing for those who do fall into it.”

In addition to supporting the creation of permanent affordable housing, funds would also go towards rental assistance, rapid rehousing, shared housing, move-in assistance, and related services for individuals and families.

While there will be a focus on low-income families, seniors, homeless individuals and families, other vulnerable populations that would benefit from the increased investment include youth aging out of foster care; adults and youth exiting the justice system; veterans; those with physical disabilities; domestic violence survivors; and a broad range of individuals who are frequent users of County health and social service programs.

“We need to be realistic about the amount of investment that is required to meaningfully address the housing crisis,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We must be thoughtful, but we must be audacious. And we must move with urgency.”

 

A Symbol of Hope on Skid Row

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 3.41.28 PMRamping up desperately needed services for the homeless in Skid Row, the Los Angeles County Downtown Mental Health Center has reopened after a $10-million renovation.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas cut the ceremonial ribbon at the entrance to 529 S. Maple Street, flanked by Supervisor Hilda Solis, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Department of Mental Health (DMH) director Marvin Southard.

“I am morally outraged that 2,000 persons sleep on the streets of Skid Row every night,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This new facility will connect residents of Skid Row as well as the rest of downtown Los Angeles to a continuum of psychiatric services.”

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Inside the newly redesigned Downtown Mental Health Center

He called it a “symbol of hope” that will serve as a
“critical access point for comprehensive, holistic and customized services to both the homeless and the formerly homeless who need continued assistance.”

Supervisor Solis issued a rallying cry — “Sigue Adelante!” — which translates into “Let’s keep moving forward.”

The Board of Supervisors approved the renovation after DMH cited overcrowding and structural problems in the original clinic, which began operating in 2001. Funding came from the Mental Health Services Act, a ballot initiative approved by California voters in 2004, which imposed a 1% tax on millionaires to pay for programs that would improve the public mental health system.

District Attorney Lacey said the project was a way of “helping those who cannot help themselves,” while Sheriff McDonnell emphasized the general public stood to benefit more from providing services to the mentally ill than locking them up in jail.

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A homeless encampment in Skid Row

“Let’s chart a new path and be a model for the rest of the nation,” Sheriff McDonnell said.

The renovation will allow the DMH to provide services to about 3,300 patients on site at any given time, while connecting thousands of other patients to several specialized DMH programs in the vicinity, creating a network of critical mental health services.

“This new facility should be seen as the next step in the County’s total commitment for finding the combination of housing, addiction, mental health and other services that aim at ending the scandal that is Skid Row,” added Director Southard.

“As a homeless person journeys towards recovery, it is essential that he or she have meaningful and timely connections to ongoing mental health and substance abuse services,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This Center will act as a linchpin, connecting folks who are on the streets of Skid Row or in the Missions to crisis resolution services, and then wellness services, as they recover.”

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Serving Seniors in Compton

DJA_0012What used to be a vacant lot in Compton has been transformed into desperately needed affordable housing for seniors, demonstrating the type of initiative necessary to alleviate the crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles County.

Costing $20.3-million in public and private funds, Metro @ Compton Senior Apartments recently opened 75 units for low and very low-income seniors ages 55 and older.

Rent is $430-$750 for a one-bedroom unit and $515-$900 for a two-bedroom unit at 302 N. Tamarind Ave, conveniently located next to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Blue Line.

“Metro @ Compton is the gold standard,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who chairs the Metro Board of Directors. “It’s transit-oriented, sustainably built, uplifts the community and makes a great home.”

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Meta Housing President Kasey Burke

Amid studies showing more than 44,000 people are homeless in the County on any given night, and more 1.1 million seniors throughout California are living in poverty, the County’s Community Development Commission invested more than $2.5 million towards Metro @ Compton.

Meta Housing Corporation, Western Community Housing Optimus Construction, YM Architects and KKG Inc. comprised the development team for the 61,000 sq. ft. project, which includes a large community room and an outdoor living room with a fountain, barbecue and gym.

Being across the street from Dollarhide Community Center allows seniors to sign up for classes, assistance, and opportunities for socializing, enabling them to stay active and independent. Metro @ Compton is also within walking distance of the Martin Luther King, Jr.  Transit Center, as well as a park, grocery, bank, restaurants and shopping center.

CDC Executive Director Sean Rogan said residential and retail developments anchored around public transit are “particularly important for seniors whose independence may be affected due to limited mobility.”

On assuming the chairmanship at Metro in July, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas emphasized that public transit should be seen as a vehicle for economic development. He endorsed projects that “meet a triple bottom line: putting people to work, greening the environment, and getting people where they need to go.”

Aside from providing affordable housing to seniors, Metro @ Compton created about 160 construction jobs. Designed sustainably, it uses solar power and a photovoltaic system to capture sunlight for heating water and generating electricity, and recycles water from resident’s washing machines to irrigate the landscaping.

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Seniors and their families “raising the roof” at the grand opening of Metro @ Compton

Affordable Housing Reimagined

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SCI-Arc students turning their architectural sketches into reality

With hard hats and hammers, dozens of volunteers gathered in south Los Angeles Thursday to kick off construction on a home that’s not only inexpensive but innovative.

“This is the result of an unprecedented collaboration among the public, private, philanthropic and academic sectors,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Together, we are easing Los Angeles County’s homeless crisis and creating a prototype for affordable housing in the future.”

IMG_0113Once completed in October, the 1,150-sq. ft. home will include three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, energy-efficient heating, low-flow plumbing, insulation with recycled materials, and a drought-tolerant yard.

The home sits on a 4,410-square foot lot at 1232 W. 101st Street in Athens donated by Los Angeles County to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles.

Habitat, a nonprofit organization championed by former President Jimmy Carter, builds and renovates houses, often with volunteer labor, and arranges reasonable mortgages for low-income individuals and families.

To design the home in Athens, Habitat tapped the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), whose students developed blueprints during the fall 2014 semester, secured permits during the spring 2015 semester, and are participating in the construction phase this summer.

Habitat also partnered with General Motors Foundation and Bernards Builders and Management Services for volunteer labor and donated furniture. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office donated $95,000 toward the project, which also received funding from Habitat, SCI-Arc, and other donors.

“This project has given us the opportunity to collaborate with new and longtime partners on driving forward the standards for sustainable and cost-effective housing,” Habitat LA President and CEO Erin Rank said. “Innovation is key in building a greater Los Angeles, one project and neighborhood at a time.”

SCI-Arc Director Eric Owen Moss said the cost-effective single family home is a new area of interest for SCI-Arc. “There have been a number of such efforts over the years, typically skewed in the low cost rather than the imaginative design direction,” he said. “It’s time SCI-Arc turned its attention to the solution for both.”

IMG_0108The design chosen for the home was dubbed IVRV, short for Inverse Reverse, because it blurred the relationship between indoor and outdoor areas.

Habitat will sell the home for no more than $419,000, an amount set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Habitat will work through its established home ownership program to find a veteran homeowner. Five potential buyers are already in the queue.

More projects are in the works. “We look forward to future groundbreakings on the dozen other properties in the Second District that have been donated to Habitat for Humanity for high quality affordable housing,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.