The new building on Pico Boulevard and Veteran Avenue in West Los Angeles could pass as an upscale hotel in the heart of Hollywood, with its brightly painted exterior walls and angular balconies.
Instead, the complex is the 17th addition to the collection of apartment buildings developed and managed by the Menorah Housing Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing low-income seniors with affordable, clean and convenient places to live.
Residents will begin moving into the $11 million Pico location on Feb. 15, and Menorah Housing already has relocated its headquarters to the building.
“There’s a huge need for affordable housing in L.A. County,” said Anne Friedrich, the foundation’s president. “We try to meet that need.”
Established in 1969 by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the non-sectarian Menorah Housing has apartment buildings throughout Los Angeles County — as far north as Northridge and as far south as Long Beach, extending to Echo Park in the east. Combined, the buildings are home to approximately 1,500 residents, who have an average annual income of about $12,000.
“It is extremely difficult for someone in the very low-income bracket that we serve to find a rental apartment that is affordable for them,” Friedrich said.
Lance Bocarsly, Menorah Housing’s board chair, adds that many tenants were facing dire living situations prior to moving to Menorah Housing.
“A number of our tenants were formerly homeless,” he said. “Some are people who have lived in housing that had severe problems, wasn’t safe, was infested … Menorah Housing is safe and dignified, and really high quality.”
All of Menorah’s buildings are handicapped-accessible, and residents pay approximately 30 percent of their income, which averages out to about $240 a month when taking all residents into account, Friedrich says.
Because the government subsidy is so deep, she adds, gaining funding for a project like the new West Los Angeles location can take years.
The organization’s projects are funded through the City and County of Los Angeles, the state as well as federal subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The need for subsidized housing for low-income seniors is high throughout Los Angeles County, but in areas like West Los Angeles, where rents are even steeper than in many other parts of the city, it’s particularly challenging for people on low fixed incomes — and for companies like Menorah to find areas to develop.
“Because the property values on the Westside are so high, it’s very difficult to acquire land there at a price that will allow you to build affordable housing,” Bocarsly said. “We were able to find a place in an area that’s desirable — this was a unique opportunity.”
Plans for the newest addition to Menorah Housing began in 2005 and were based in part on need in the area and in part on proximity to services like retail shops and a senior center.
With a total of 46 units, the new complex on Pico Boulevard is already full prior to its Feb. 15 opening. Once the organization began the process of finding tenants, Menorah received more than 1,000 applications.
All units in the new three-story complex, designed by Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh, are one-bedroom, with new appliances, hardwood floors and bright views of the surrounding neighborhood. A vibrant yellow community room on the first floor is home to activities organized by the foundation’s service coordinators, who plan games and occasionally bring in speakers or entertainers.
Menorah’s facilities don’t provide medical assistance or nursing care for tenants. However, many residents — whose average age is about 77 — have outside caretakers. Additionally, the foundation is able to work with outside providers of senior services, like social workers and counseling, to ensure that residents have access to the care they need.
Most residents live alone — about two-thirds — but couples are welcome.
To qualify for housing, applicants must be at least 62 years old, with a maximum income of $29,000 for one-person households and $33,150 for couples.
Menorah Housing has plans to open another building in North Hollywood, which has already been funded. The organization hopes to begin construction toward the end of this year.
The effort Menorah Housing devotes to creating not just affordable housing, but housing that is pleasant and clean, isn’t lost on residents of its existing 16 buildings.
Marjorie Brown, 64, was living with her daughter and grandchildren two years ago in an apartment that she describes as “horrible.”
“The people did not keep up the place,” she said.
After walking past Menorah’s Long Beach location several times while looking after her granddaughter, she finally called the phone number listed outside the building, located near Atlantic Boulevard and Willow Street.
In less than two months, she had moved into the complex, which opened in March 2009.
“I’m so happy with this place,” Brown said. “It’s brand new, and it’s clean and quiet — I love it.”