Menlo Family Apartments First Building-wide Barbecue

New residents of the Menlo Family Apartments recently gathered for their first building-wide barbecue. The Koreatown area apartments provide supportive housing to formerly homeless families, youths transitioning from foster care and those needing mental health services. Half of the complex’s 60 units are occupied by formerly homeless families. Most families moved in less than a month ago, and the barbecue was the first informal gathering for residents to get to know each other in a purely social setting. Menlo Family Apartments was developed by the Koreatown Youth and Community Center and the Little Tokyo Service Center.

An Oasis in the Middle of Koreatown

Rosemary bushes, lush Japanese maple trees and succulent plants in large planters welcome new residents and visitors to the Normadie Terrance Apartments, a new 66-unit affordable housing complex in the heart of Koreatown.

The 79,265-square-foot energy and environmentally efficient facility, is part of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas’ ongoing effort to substantially increase the number of affordable housing units in the Second District. Since 2009, Chairman Ridley-Thomas has overseen and supported the construction and completion of 15 affordable housing complexes for low-income residents in the district with an additional seven housing developments currently underway.

All of the affordable housing complexes are contemporary standouts, including the Normandie Terrace Apartments, which occupies the whole city-block between Normandie and Mariposa Avenue. Units in the newest complex are furnished with energy saving kitchen appliances, hardwood flooring and granite counter tops. Families can meet and children play in the community room, a large space bursting with colorful artwork on its walls, or use the computer lab with free Internet access. Social services are located on the first floor where resume writing workshops and money management classes are held. In the upcoming months, tenants will also be able to learn about nutritional eating and domestic violence awareness.

The new apartments are a welcome change for Seung Hee Kang, 42, who use to live in a three-bedroom, low-income apartment near Chinatown with his family of four.

“I’m married with three-kids, one boy and two girls,” said Kang. “I liked where I lived before, but this is better. Living in the apartments here is very convenient because I’m Korean and the apartment is in Koreatown. We are able to walk to the Korean market, my daughter’s school is nearby and learning ballet at the nearby studio, and my church is nearby.”

Located less than a mile from the Metro train station at Wilshire Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, tenants have easy access to public transportation. The units are available for families earning approximately $17,400 to $57,660 per year. In addition, 33 of the units at the complex are designated for families earning less than $25,000 a year.

The John Stewart Company, one of the largest affordable housing providers in California, is managing the units. The company received more than 3,500 applications for a unit in Normandie Terrace from eager residents hoping to find an affordable and decent place to live.

“There is a great need for affordable housing in our county—one of the country’s most expensive areas in which to live,” said the supervisor. “This project stands as a shining example of what redevelopment can accomplish – a facility that is not only beautiful but includes amenities and services that will help tenants to thrive.”

A Modern Day Village in the Heart of Koreatown

Menlo Family Apartments

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.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas at the Grand Opening of Menlo Family Apartments

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.”

Supervisors Approve $15 Million More for Affordable Housing

Epworth Apartments on Normandie Avenue.  Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

Epworth Apartments on Normandie Avenue.  Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

The preservation and creation of affordable housing has been a longstanding goal of the county and its 88 cities, but the demise of redevelopment agencies delivered a blow to low-income residents struggling in one of the nation’s most difficult housing markets; the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $1,447 — far more than one-third of take-home pay for 40 percent of Angelenos.

Acting on a joint motion by Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina, the Board of Supervisors unanimously reaffirmed the county’s commitment to providing permanent housing for low-income residents, recently approving a motion to transfer $15 million to the Community Development Corporation for affordable housing in Los Angeles County.

Supervisors Molina and Ridley-Thomas had urged the board to set aside $75 million for five years, $15 million of which would be allocated this year, but voted to postpone allocating the remaining $60 million until the annual budget process begins — just a few weeks.

Both Supervisors Molina and Ridley-Thomas urged the balance of the board to dedicate the total amount available to affordable housing.

“I am advocating for and committed to affordable housing having top priority consideration for the use of these resources,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “On any given night in Los Angeles County, over 50,000 homeless individuals live on the streets. The majority have untreated illnesses or disabilities, so affordable housing can and must be the priority. It has implications for our communities and workforce dynamics.”

“I think what’s important is that this is not money that should be allocated in a different direction…I’m hoping we’re not going to layer this with all kind of other competing interests,” said Supervisor Molina.

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Hope Street Family Center courtesy of Abode Communities.

Affordable housing advocates cheered passage of the motion, noting the significant challenges they face since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies.

“The loss of redevelopment housing funds has had a significant impact on the production and preservation of affordable housing,” said affordable housing developer Robin Hughes, the president of Abode Communities committed to affordable housing communities in Los Angeles.

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In October of last year, acting on a joint motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $11 million in funding for affordable housing projects that is expected to result in approximately 176 new units. Through the Community Development Commission’s work, the county has created over 10,000 affordable units.

“This funding is critically important to low income communities and people with special needs,” said Dora Gallo, chief executive of A Community of Friends, a nonprofit agency that develops affordable housing. “While other cities and counties are still trying to figure out what to do with the loss of redevelopment funds, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Molina have taken action.”

Homeless Count 2013

As the stars began to shine in the night sky Thursday, more than two dozen volunteers gathered around the table in the education room at Holman United Methodist Church in the West Adams neighborhood, eagerly waiting to hit the streets.

“We’re gonna get this done tonight, are we not?” said their site trainer Carolyn Fowler.

“Yes!” the group cheered.

The group was among the 5,000 volunteers who turned out in late January to participate in the 2013 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) biennial homeless count , which seeks to locate and count the men, women and children living in cars and tents, makeshift shelters or sleeping out in the open. During the four-day event, volunteers fanned out throughout Los Angeles County and covered more than 1,400 census tracts, making it the largest turnout ever in the biennial count’s fifth year history. Volunteers, who received training on how to identify homeless people and count them correctly without making assumptions about people who happened to be loitering or near makeshift shelter, were given pre-determined census tracts to canvass.

The count is essential for understanding and tracking how many people are living on the streets and what kind of services and housing will best help them in secure permanent shelter. In 2011, the effort revealed that more than 51,000 people in the county are homeless. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort by cities and the county to improve homeless services and become pro-active in getting people the help they need, said G. Michael Arnold, executive director of LAHSA.

“Local cities are really stepping up and trying to understand homelessness in their communities,” said Arnold. “They are trying to find solutions.”

Individuals, like Holman Senior Pastor, Rev. Kelvin Sauls, are also stepping up.

“We want to be with our brothers and sisters who happen to be homeless,” he said before the group began the count.

Ashley Wilson, who is making a documentary about the homeless, noted that homelessness is not a faraway concept in our society.
“It can happen to anyone,” she said.

Indeed, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas , who joined the group of volunteers in West Adams and Leimert Park, reminded volunteers that being homeless does not diminish a person’s right to compassion and care, saying, “We share a common belief that the dignity and worth of all people matters. They are God’s people and created in his image and likeness.”

The volunteers then fanned out across South Los Angeles until midnight, blanketing the area, using flashlights and maps to try to find homeless people living in parks, cars, trailers or alleys. Remnants of belongings, blankets, clothing, tents, bottles of vodka or beer, often were giveaways for encampments that had been temporarily abandoned. But by midnight, dozens of homeless people would appear in Leimert Park seeking safety in numbers under the brightly lit park palms.

As the Supervisor stood in night shadows of Leimert Park, an area that had suffered a long period of neglect but was redesigned when he was on the Los Angeles City Council in the 1990s, he noted the poignancy of seeing former classmates from his school days at Manual Arts High School, on the streets. Drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness or misfortune such as a health crisis or losing a home, play a large role in the downward spiral of many who never expect to find themselves sleeping out of doors, he said, adding, “It doesn’t get more real than this . These are members of our family, friends and associates, black, brown, yellow, red and white. This is sobering.”

As he ventured out of the park, a man who identified himself as A.J. approached. A.J., it turned out had been chronically homeless years ago and someone who Jeanette Rowe, director of homeless services for LAHSA, had met on the streets 20 years ago in Venice and Santa Monica.

Rowe, who was accompanying the Supervisor on the count, spoke of the long effort to help A.J. transition to indoor living.
“I tried so hard to get him into a shelter,” she recalled. “He told me how much he hated it and I said, ‘OK, you go back there and tell me tomorrow how much you hate it.’ After 90 days in the shelter, it is really hard to return to the street. You’ve lost your step.”

Today, A.J. has an apartment and is living with government assistance. He was selling recorders in the park and seemed to be doing well.

“Years ago, he was a mess,” said Rowe. And then as he walked away, giving her his telephone number, she smiled. One less person was on the street. She had done her job. “It is very rewarding to see that.”