Athens Vistas Apartments Offers Homes for Seniors

Seventy-three seniors – half of whom used to live on the streets – now have a beautiful, dignified and affordable place to call home at Athens Vistas Apartments. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas cut the ceremonial ribbon during the grand opening of the supportive housing complex for homeless seniors and persons with limited means.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles County Development Authority celebrate the grand opening. Photo by Mayra Vasquez / Los Angeles County

“This is what individual transformation and community transformation can and should look like,” he said.  “We have to  build more projects like this, and quickly, because we have more than 4,000 seniors throughout the county who still need and deserve a place that they too can call home.”

“This is a slice of paradise in South Los Angeles,” said 69-year-old Wendy Brooks, one of Athens Vistas’ new tenants. “Help us continue to build more opportunities like this one.”

“I’m very, very happy I’m not in the streets like I was,” added Richard Vasquez, the last of 73 residents to join the Athens Vistas community. Just six months earlier, he had been sleeping in the park.

Wendy Brooks welcomes Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with open arms to her new Athens Vistas home. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

The Los Angeles County Development Authority, Los Angeles County Housing Development Corporation, and Veloce Partners, along with FPI Management, Inc., were key to building the project, which features 74 units, including one for the manager.

Athens Vistas has a central outdoor courtyard, container garden and edible landscaping, two community rooms, a laundry room, gym, designated exercise room, computer room, and social services. Amenities include energy efficient appliances, ceiling fans and lighting, dual flush toilets, and access to either a patio or balcony. The senior units all meet the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act standards and include Universal Design standards.

Richard Vasquez shows off his new Athens Vistas home to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

The Salvation Army is the lead service provider for the project and will provide an onsite Service Coordinator to link residents with essential services based on their individualized needs. They can also help with resumé creation, coordinating employment training, organizing community building activities, securing transportation, and developing educational programs. They can also connect residents to other service providers who can help with case management, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, and other assistance.

The YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, meanwhile, will provide residents with fun and interactive programs and activities to prevent social isolation and physical inactivity.

Supportive Housing Development Breaks Ground

Gramercy Place Apartments Groundbreaking on June 26, 2019. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined officials from the Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA), Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, and other partners to celebrate the groundbreaking of Gramercy Place Apartments.

Gramercy Place Apartments will be located in the Arlington Heights neighborhood of the City of Los Angeles. The 64-unit building is designed to appear as six separate buildings with one two-story wing, two three-story wings, and three four-story wings, all connected by an exterior courtyard walkway. The development will reserve 30 units for seniors with limited means, 20 units for seniors experiencing homelessness, and 12 units for households with a mental illness. To accommodate residents, a variety of amenities will be provided: an exercise room; community spaces – a lounge, a community room with a kitchen, and a roof terrace; bicycle parking; access to three laundry room facilities, as well as commercial space and underground parking.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stated, “We will be relentless in deploying a variety of tools to tackle our homeless and housing affordability crisis. But the backbone of our effort continues to be building new, affordable housing with support services – work that can’t happen without committed, strong partners. Partners such as Hollywood Community Housing share the County’s commitment to create quality affordable housing for today, which we can ensure stays affordable tomorrow.”

Gramercy Place Apartments is the product of collaborative work. The LACDA is providing a total of $5,000,000 in construction and permanent financing, which accounts for $2,000,000 in Affordable Housing Trust Funds and $3,000,000 in Mental Health Housing Program Funds through a partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Housing Works will be the lead supportive service provider. Funded primarily through Measure H, onsite supportive services will include intensive case management services, substance use treatment, life skills training, benefits education and advocacy, attendant care, representative payee services, end of life counseling, medication management services, transportation assistance, education with a focus on arts and life enrichment, and support to connect with various community-based services.

City Council President Herb Wesson said, “We are going to solve this housing and homelessness crisis project-by-project, bed-by-bed. Gramercy Place Apartments will bring another 60 much-needed affordable units to the heart of the 10th Council District. We cannot and will not rest until we get our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness off the streets and into stable housing.”

For more information on Gramercy Place Apartments, please call the information line at (866) 247-5973.

CNN: Staggering homeless count stuns LA officials

Reposted from

The stunning increase in homelessness announced in Los Angeles this week — up 16% over last year citywide — was an almost incomprehensible conundrum given the nation’s booming economy and the hundreds of millions of dollars that city, county and state officials have directed toward the problem.

But the homelessness crisis gripping Los Angeles is one that has been many years in the making with no easy fix. It is a problem driven by an array of complex factors, including rising rents, a staggering shortage of affordable housing units, resistance to new shelters and housing developments in suburban neighborhoods, and, above all, the lack of a cohesive safety net for thousands of people struggling with mental health problems, addiction and, in some cases, recent exits from the criminal justice system that have left them with no other options beyond living on the streets.

“It is the height of contradiction that in the midst of great prosperity across the Golden State, we are also seeing unprecedented increases in homelessness,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a key proponent of the 2017 county sales tax known as Measure H that is raising about $355 million annually for homelessness services over ten years.

CNN Reporter Maeve Rueston interviews Supervisor Ridley-Thomas at Tiki Apartments. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

“This data is stunning from the perspective that we had hoped that things would be trending differently, but we will not ignore our realities,” Ridley-Thomas said after the numbers were released. “No one can ignore the income insecurity, the financial stress that is being experienced throughout the population. … This is a state that is the wealthiest in the nation, and, at the same time, it is the most impoverished.”

The new homeless count released Tuesday by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority showed nearly 59,000 people living in the streets across Los Angeles County, a 12% increase over the prior year; and 36,300 homeless people within the city limits of LA, a 16% increase over last year’s count.

Playground at Mosaic Gardens in Willowbrook. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

While those figures were shocking to many Americans who view Los Angeles mainly as a city of glittering wealth, they came as less of a surprise to millions of Angelenos.

For several years now, the city’s residents have watched tent encampments spring up far beyond the downtown area known as Skid Row — where LA’s homeless population and services have historically been concentrated — to their neighborhood sidewalks, freeway embankments, city and county parks, along business corridors and into some of the most affluent neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Beyond the well-being of the city’s homeless population, the encampments have raised a broad array of public heath and safety concerns. Los Angeles Fire Department officials determined, for example, that the massive Skirball blaze that burned homes in Bel-Air and torched the hillsides along the 405 freeway in December 2017 was sparked by a cooking fire at a homeless encampment nearby.

In and around Skid Row, scores of business owners who warehouse their goods in that industrial area downtown have pressed the city to do more about the rising number of tent fires. In one of the most frightening developments, some of the fires are being lit by gang members who try to collect rent from tent-dwellers on certain blocks, according to law enforcement officials and homeless people living in tents interviewed by CNN.



Magnolia Housing Program Offers Second Chances

All photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

A newly opened supportive housing project in the heart of Koreatown offers men exiting the criminal justice system a real chance at turning their lives around.

Far too often, people coming out of jail face an uphill battle finding a job, a place to live, or both. With the Anti-Recidivism Coalition’s (ARC) Magnolia Housing Program, 22 men who recently emerged from the Division of Juvenile Justice or prison now have keys to their new home, as well as an opportunity to receive job training with guaranteed apprenticeships in the building and construction trades.

ARC Founder Scott Budnick and Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas welcome a tenant to the Magnolia Housing Program

“Today, we celebrate the Magnolia Housing Program, a perfect blend of innovation and common sense,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Successful reintegration after a period of incarceration is not easy, but organizations like ARC are helping those who made a mistake, paid their dues and are trying to get back on their feet.”

“We look forward to bright futures for each tenant entering these doors,” he added.

One resident is already enrolled in the Metro Rail Mechanics program at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Another just joined the plumbers union and is working full time. All of the current residents are working and 85 percent are enrolled in school.

ARC founder and president Scott Budnick said, “Offering stable housing, pathways to employment, mentorship and counseling services instills hope for deserving young men and women and ultimately creates safer and healthier communities.”

Founded in 2013, ARC provides a supportive network and reentry services to formerly incarcerated individuals, and advocates for fair and just policies in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The Magnolia Housing Program is modeled after ARC’s Bromont Housing Program, which saw 76 percent of its participants employed after their second year of residence, and a recidivism rate of only 6 percent.

At Magnolia, 22 men will live in a newly renovated house, with mentorship on-site. Los Angeles Trade Technical College and the LA County Federation of Labor created a first-of-its-kind training program that will help them secure lasting career opportunities. Other members of the collaborative include the LA County Probation Department and the LA/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

“The Magnolia Housing Program is an ‘uncommon common sense’ approach to fighting recidivism,” said grateful resident Steven Parker. “It’s been an awesome experience,” said Emiliano Lopez, another Magnolia resident. “I get to share space with a lot of people who are enthusiastic and want to better their lives.”

In addition to supporting the Magnolia Housing Program, Los Angeles County is committed to doing more to help provide second chances to those who have already paid their debt to society. Chairman Ridley-Thomas, in collaboration with Supervisor Hilda Solis, plans to present a motion July 11 to establish a comprehensive Fair Chance Ordinance. If passed, it will create an outreach campaign and enhance training and curriculum for populations that have been excluded from the workforce, including those with felony convictions.

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.