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Our Athens

Kristin Sakoda dances with Vanessa’s Positive Energy Dance Troupe at the Book Launch Party.  Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas celebrated the launch of Our Athens, the latest in a series of books documenting and celebrating unincorporated communities in Los Angeles County’s Second District.

Creative Core LA, with guidance from the County’s Arts Commission, photographed more than 65 community leaders and members for the book, which will be distributed at various events and community centers in Athens.

Representatives of the West Athens / Westmont Task Force at the Book Launch Party. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“Let it be known near and far that Athens has a rich history and an even more dynamic present, and our mission was to have the book capture as much of that as we could,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said during the book launch, attended by more than 100 people including several who were featured in the book.

Members of the West Athens Taskforce, Vermont Manchester Collaborative andSouthwest Community Association also celebrated the launch of the book, together with representatives of local schools, youth centers, churches, businesses, senior centers, and others.

Athens has 40,000 residents spanning an area of 3.2 square miles. Among the neighborhood’s landmarks are Chester Washington Golf Course, where the book launch was held, and which was the home course for the great African American pro golfer Charlie Sifford. Other local destinations are Jesse Owens Park and Washington Prep High School, which had a movie made about its transformation in the late 70s, starring Denzel Washington.

Athens has seen more than $400 million in investments since Supervisor Ridley-Thomas was elected in 2008. This includes new affordable apartments; a renovated library; façade improvements for small businesses; transportation and street improvements; new and improved parks, walking paths, and a community garden.

“We are not done yet,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Our goal is to continue to ensure that there are high-quality assets in Athens, worthy of the civic vitality that is ingrained in this community.”

Our Athens is the latest in a series of books highlighting the Second District communities of Florence-Firestone, Lennox, Willowbrook and East Rancho Dominguez.

Left to Right: (Top) 88th Street Temple Church Pastor Anthony Williams, Southwest Community Association Director Henry Porter, West Athens Westmont Taskforce Founder Bruce McCall (Bottom) Washington Prep High School Principal Dr. Dechele Byrd, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Create Core LA Co-Founder Gennia Cuo, LA County Arts Commission Director Kristin Sakoda. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration and Homelessness

Los Angeles County leaders announced the expansion of a groundbreaking program that diverts mentally ill inmates from jail and provides them with intensive case management and supportive housing. They also released a study showing how many more individuals can be helped by this program while improving public safety and saving public funds.

Called ODR Housing, the program operated by the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry has diverted 1,728 people from jail since 2016. Participants receive permanent supportive housing and long-term intensive case management to ensure their ongoing medical and mental healthcare needs are met, making communities safer and breaking the cycle between jail and homelessness.

Previously, diversion from jail into case management and housing was available only to people whose cases were heard in the Superior Court’s downtown LA Central District. But at the request of the Court, cases will be heard in two courthouses serving nine districts beginning April 2019. By the end of the year, mentally ill inmates from all over the County may be eligible for treatment and services instead of jail. 

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with ODR Housing program participant Stephen Baker. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“Over the last three years, we have proven that diverting people with mental health disorders from jail into treatment and supportive housing makes communities safer. It also breaks the cycle between the criminal justice system and homelessness, and saves public funds,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion to create ODR. “Today we are taking the important step of expanding this program to every courthouse in Los Angeles County. By doubling down on diversion, we have the potential to reach thousands more individuals countywide without compromising public safety.”

“With the guidance and support offered by ODR’s program, I transitioned from incarceration to interim housing in October of 2016,”  ODR Housing program participant Stephen Baker said. “I began getting counseling, receiving medication, and working with a primary doctor to manage my health issues. For the first time, I learned about having a healthy state of mind and felt like I had real support.”

Currently one-third of the men in LA County jail suffer from mental illness. As of February 2019, the jail mental health population was counted at 5,134, out of an overall jail population of 16,621. A new report from the Department of Health Services shows that the ODR Housing program can break the cycle between jail and homelessness for thousands more people than previously thought—56% of that jail mental health population, or nearly 2,900 people. 

“Prosecutors take an oath to protect our community and public safety is our number one priority.  We also want to make sure that jails and prisons are reserved for the most serious and violent offenders,” said District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “In the past, some people have served more time behind bars due to their untreated mental illness and, as a result, they experienced further mental deterioration.  For that reason, my office is working closely with the Office of Diversion and Reentry to ensure that my prosecutors are making informed decisions that not only keep the public safe but also assist people in getting services they need to be healthy members of our community.” 

“When a public defender has a mentally ill client facing incarceration and resolves the case with the client receiving the care and housing he needs to return to society —that’s real, tangible progress. That’s the holistic advocacy that I as Public Defender hope one day soon becomes business as usual across the county,” said Public Defender Ricardo Garcia. “We need to see the whole person and work in interdisciplinary teams to address both the immediate case and the client’s underlying life circumstances — drug addiction, mental illness, family or housing instability — that contributed to the person’s contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.”

“The Office of Diversion and Reentry has successfully provided much needed treatment to many of our clients, which helps stop the cycle of recidivism and we look forward to ODR being able to provide needed services to many more people through these new hubs,” said Erika Anzoategui, Acting Alternate Public Defender for LA County.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with ODR Housing program participant Stephen Baker, LA County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly, LA County Probation Chief Sheila McDonald, and LA County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, and DIstrict Attorney Jackie Lacey. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

In addition to increasing public safety and improving individual outcomes, ODR’s supportive housing program shifts public expenditures away from expensive hospital and jail costs into treatment and community care. The program costs an estimated $26,000 per participant per year—about $70/day. While comparative cost studies are still underway, incarceration facility costs can reach many times higher, and the addition of mental health treatment can drive costs up by tens of thousands of dollars annually. 

With 92% of participants remaining in housing after six months, the supportive housing program’s success record represents a culture shift in L.A.’s justice system and shows that community safety and reentry can be achieved through collaboration.

“For a population that struggles with addiction and compliance, a 92% stay rate after six months is profound,” said Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald, “People who are able to stay in the community at the six-month mark attend to stay in the community in the long run.”

“This is good news, not only for those in jail needing mental health treatment and their families, but also good news for our communities struggling with untreated mental health patients cycling in and out of jail, and good news for the County,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “The evidence shows that we can improve treatment, enhance public safety, and use tax dollars more effectively, so let’s do it.”

“We’ve seen miraculous changes come out of one courtroom in one part of the County,” said LA County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “People go from suffering in the jail to thriving in their communities. They go from hopelessness to stability, care, and hope. Thanks to the Superior Court’s request to expand this program, those miracles will start happening in communities across the County.” 

The Court’s requested expansion of ODR Housing to a hub model now operates out of the Downtown courthouse (Criminal Justice Center) serving the Central Criminal District, Pasadena (North Central/Northeast) and Pomona (East); and from the the Airport Courthouse (West District) serving Torrance (Southwest), Compton (South Central), South (Long Beach) and Southeast (Norwalk). By the end of the year, the remaining three districts (Northwest, North Valley and North) will be served through programming based in Van Nuys and Lancaster. 

“The Los Angeles Superior Court (LASC) is proud to work with our justice partners on an expansion of this critical program to help homeless individuals overcome their mental health issues,” said Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile. “This program’s success is due in large part to the availability of housing, which provides a stable, safe home for people as they participate in mental health and other programs, reclaim their lives, and keep our neighborhoods safe. The ODR housing program demonstrates how the LASC, along with our justice partners, enhances public safety while helping these individuals lead more productive lives.”

ODR Housing cases represent a unique partnership across the County’s Justice and Health Departments. Each case is reviewed by the District Attorney, the Public Defender or the Alternate Public Defender, ODR, the Probation Department, and ultimately the Court itself. 

Once approved, participants are released into ODR’s residential programming. Under the supervision of specially trained probation officers, they begin treatment in interim housing and eventually transition into permanent housing, robust support services and reintegration into the community. Seven permanent supportive housing providers and twelve interim housing providers make up the ODR Housing services: Amity Foundation, The People Concern, Special Services for Groups (SSG) Project 180, Volunteers of America, Telecare, Alcott Center, and St. Joseph’s Center. 

Affordable Apartments Coming to West Rancho Dominguez

Stanford Avenue Apartments rendering courtesy of the architect, Shelter LLP.

Dozens of families will be homeless no more as construction gets under way on a beautiful apartment complex in West Rancho Dominguez, slated to open in the summer of 2020.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led the ceremonial  groundbreaking for the Stanford Avenue Apartments. Developed by Hollywood Community Housing Corporation and designed by Shelter LLP, it will provide permanent homes for 30 low-income families and 53 homeless families who will receive supportive services through Measure H and Section 8 rental subsidies.

Amenities will include multiple community rooms including a ground floor clubhouse, computer lab, a meeting room for supportive services, an outdoor courtyard and gardening space. The side yard will include citrus trees and raised planter beds for gardening.

Left to Right: Hollywood Community Housing Board Member & Actor Glynn Turman, CDC/HACoLA Executive Director Monique King-Viehland, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“There is no better way to address our homeless crisis than by providing high quality affordable and supportive housing,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Stanford Avenue Apartments represents the rebirth of a lot that had been vacant for decades. Besides transforming the lives of the 85 individuals and their families who will call it home, this development will benefit the West Rancho Dominguez neighborhood.”

“Throughout our 30-year history, the staff and board of Hollywood Community Housing have worked tirelessly to create quality affordable housing that has a positive impact, both physically and socially, on the neighborhoods where our properties are located,” said Hollywood Community Housing  executive director Sarah Letts. “We also strive to transform lives by providing services and access to resources that improve the quality of life for our residents. Many of the services at Stanford Avenue Apartments will be funded by the County’s Measure H and we are grateful to the Board of Supervisors for their leadership and unwavering determination to address the affordable housing and homelessness crisis.”

Congresswoman  Nanette Diaz Barragán (44th District) also attended the groundbreaking, along with representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Community Development Commission/Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, and Wells Fargo Bank, all of which contributed to the project.

“Wells Fargo is committed to providing financial solutions that support the development of affordable housing in areas where there are the biggest needs,” said Tim McCann, Senior Vice President in Wells Fargo’s Community Lending and Investment group. “The need for housing for formerly homeless households and low-income households is particularly acute in Los Angeles, and we’re proud to support Hollywood Community Housing Corporation’s development of this project with both equity and debt financing as Stanford Avenue Apartments will provide housing, along with a unique array of supportive services, for some of LA’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Housing Works will provide supportive services at the site, with funding from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. Tenant referrals will come through the County’s Coordinated Entry System and HOPICS. About five dozen apartment units will receive rental subsidies through CDC/HACoLA, allowing their tenants to pay only a third of their income towards rent.

Applications will be available in 2020. For updates, call (866) 563-7062.

Groundbreaking for Stanford Avenue Apartments. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors





Supervisor’s Statement on the County Budget

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Los Angeles County Budget for Fiscal Year 2019/2020

“Los Angeles County’s sound fiscal management has afforded us the ability to address a number of quality of life issues for our residents.

“The fact that we have unprecedented resources at our disposal to tackle homelessness is due to voters placing their trust in the County’s action plan for addressing this crisis. With this budget, we will not only uphold that pledge but double down and invest more than ever in solutions such as affordable housing – the twin issue to homelessness. We will also put more resources into supportive services, including expanding street outreach teams. The increased investment means, in no uncertain terms, that we recognize the intractable nature of the homelessness crisis but remain undeterred.

“In the area of public safety, we are working closely with the Inspector General and the Civilian Oversight Commission. We are also investing in body-worn cameras, a fundamental feature of 21st century constitutional policing, and putting more resources into diversion programs to give more people a second chance.

“Recognizing the role that the arts can play in healing and overcoming trauma, in addition to fostering creativity and inspiration, we are establishing the County’s first Department of Arts and Culture.

“I also want to underscore the creation of the County’s Office of Violence Prevention, which will help create conditions that promote peace in communities. We’ve seen the effectiveness of this work at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Healing and Trauma Prevention Center, and are convinced of the need to make such services more widely available.

“Finally, we are creating partnerships and building a investment fund for the bioscience sector, which is booming and creating jobs in Los Angeles – which is just how we like it.

“I thank CEO Sachi Hamai for preparing a budget that reflects the focused multi-year effort needed to elevate our residents’ quality of life, while also directing resources to advance this Board of Supervisors’ ambitious policy agenda.”

New Apartments and YMCA in Koreatown

Vermont Corridor Apartments. Courtesy of Meta Housing Corp.

A 72-unit affordable apartment complex is now under construction in Koreatown with a feature that local residents have long been clamoring for – a community center and YMCA.

The $51.4 million Vermont Corridor Apartments will provide affordable apartments for seniors and other vulnerable members of the community, as well as a 12,500 square-foot YMCA. Several of the units will come with supportive services and subsidized rents for residents who had experienced homelessness.

Slated to open in March 2021, the project is being developed by Meta Housing Corporation in a joint venture partnership with Western Community Housing. The County of Los Angeles’ Measure H will pay for supportive services at the site, while the City of Los Angeles’ Proposition HHH will account for a significant portion of the construction cost. Other funding sources include the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID), the Community Development Commission/Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (CDC/HACoLA).

“The Vermont Corridor Apartments project is a promise fulfilled,”  Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “For Koreatown residents, it provides not only affordable homes to seniors who need it most, but also a long-awaited community center with a Wellness Center to be operated by the YMCA. Working with Meta housing and Western Community Housing, as well as the City of Los Angeles and other partners, we have repurposed an aging Los Angeles County facility and transformed it into a beautiful new asset for the community to enjoy. That’s public private partnership at its best.”

“Affordable senior housing is extremely difficult to find in Los Angeles,” says Kasey Burke, President of Meta Housing. “Los Angeles needs more affordable alternatives for older residents, and we are delivering that alternative in this project.  This is a great example of public private partnership working together to improve the community and the lives of our future residents.”

Aaron Mandel, Executive Vice President of Meta Housing, said the new development repurposes an underutilized County property to provide a high quality and safe environment for residents at an affordable cost while reducing blight in the area. The development will also generate an estimated 321 construction jobs and seven permanent jobs.

Monique King-Viehland, Executive Director of the Community Development Commission/Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles, said, “We look forward to the future of the Vermont Corridor Apartments and its position in the community – a hub that will provide affordable homes for seniors and special needs residents. The addition of the YMCA on the first floor will help to enhance the neighborhood through their commitment to meeting community needs through a strong range of programs.

The 113,061 square-foot apartment community will be constructed to LEED Gold standards and is located 3 blocks from the Metro Purple Line’s Wilshire/Vermont station with many other amenities including a grocery store, a pharmacy and medical clinic, public schools, stores and restaurants, and a library in close proximity. The development is also less than a quarter mile from Shatto Recreation Center, which comprises sports fields, facilities for community events.

The apartment community is one of three projects planned for the Vermont Corridor in Koreatown, specifically on Vermont Avenue, between 4th and 6th Streets. Also under construction is the 21-story Vermont Corridor Administration Building, which will be the new headquarters of the County Department of Mental Health, as well as Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. Another project will feature market-rate housing.