The Menlo Family Apartments’ breezy courtyard garden brimming with spiky succulents, its brightly painted hallways in hues of blue, yellow, orange and green and even the sparkling new bathrooms are a far cry from the blighted site that once made this corner of Koreatown notorious as a stop for prostitution and gang activity.
The apartments, on Menlo near Vermont Avenue and Pico Boulevard, are a veritable, modern-day village. Here young adults, children, middle-aged adults and grandparents will mingle in one location, but it is also a place that caters to society’s most vulnerable people : low-income families, families struggling with mental illness, kids graduating from the foster care system and formerly homeless families.
Newly opened and run by the Koreatown Youth & Community Center, the Menlo Family Apartments received 3,500 applications for only 60 apartments, speaking to the dire need for affordable housing in one of the country’s most expensive areas—Los Angeles.
“We are bringing together three very distinct populations that have never lived together and trying to instill a sense of family in the building,” said Christine Najung Lee, youth services manager KYCC. “It is hard enough for one or two parents to raise a family on their own. We are going to have regular tenant meetings and we are hoping they can look out for one another. This is a neighborhood within a building.”
Los Angeles County, along with City of Los Angeles and Union Bank, funded the project, which was built by the Little Tokyo Service Center. Mental health counseling, job training, financial literacy classes and possibly a daycare center will be available to tenants within the building.
“Despite the prosperity that is coming to Wilshire Boulevard and many other parts of Los Angeles, it is increasingly important that we address issues of mental illness, homelessness, and youth in transition to spread the benefits of the economic recovery to all of our constituents and neighbors,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, a strong backer of the project. “This type of permanent housing, with supportive services, is a successful model for combating homelessness, keeping families together and enabling opportunities for our youth.”
Considering the loss of the state’s redevelopment dollars, the housing project is also an example of the need for local governments to continue funding and building affordable housing. Chairman Ridley-Thomas pointed to three recent projects totaling more than $44 million to develop affordable housing in the Second District.
“We will keep the affordable housing pipeline full,” he said. “And we will continue to support organizations like the Little Tokyo Service Center and the Koreatown Youth & Community Center in doing this significant work.”