October 25, 2007
The downside of upscale growth
Los Angeles deals with a housing crisis as expansion clashes with ethics
(Page 3 - Previous Page)I saw a solution in Hollywood, at the end of a bus tour I took a while back to take a look at threatened affordable housing, It was sponsored by the Liberty Hill Foundation, which provides money to community groups, including some fighting for housing for the low income. We started in an apartment house just west of downtown, where tenants have been evicted from 12 of the 39 units, and more evictions are on the way. Some ended up in East Los Angeles with higher rents.
We saw a couple of similar places and then ended up at a simple but elegantly designed apartment house on the fringe of Hollywood.
The building at Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue, convenient to public transportation and shopping, offers housing for the low-income and poor. It was completed in 2005 by the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, a not-for-profit organization. Putting together public and private funds, the corporation has built almost 20 housing complexes in Hollywood, containing 600 units that house 2,100 people, 800 of them children.
More than 100 more units are on the drawing board. Two of the developments are reserved for seniors and disabled older people. More than 60 percent of the corporation's apartments are for families, 37 percent for individuals and 30 percent for the disabled and for those moving out of homelessness.
Bill Harris, who runs the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, took note of Hollywood's big new high-end developments, but said, "Without affordable housing, there will be no workers. The key is that there should be room at the table for everyone. It is what's right. Affordable housing is an ethical question for all of us.... We don't need to live in Beverly Hills. But we all deserve a quality home that helps us move ahead."
At the apartment house I visited, four floors of light, airy units are built around a simple but attractive courtyard. The imaginative design by architects Barry Milofsky and Andrew Cox gives the place a spacious, open look, with big windows in the units. A third of them look out on the courtyard. There are English-language classes for immigrant residents, computers, job counseling and childcare.
"You need services, case management, after-school care, a food pantry for the unemployed," Harris said.
A commercial developer, Village Properties, purchased the land. Hollywood Community Housing put together a financial package with money from the private sector and state and city funds from bonds and other sources. Walgreens put a drug store on the site, along with space for another business, now occupied by a cell phone store. The addition of the commercial space made it all financially possible.
But it wouldn't have worked, Harris said, without the intense work of the councilman representing the area, Eric Garcetti, and his predecessors, Jackie Goldberg and Michael Woo. They and their staffs were instrumental in putting together the combination of public and private resources and guiding this and other Hollywood Community Housing projects through the City Hall maze of regulations.
Here, government worked, thanks to the three imaginative and talented council members who have represented the 13th District in recent years. But such skill isn't found everywhere in city hall.
"The housing crisis is the most extreme crisis we face in Los Angeles," Garcetti said. "We have the worst traffic in America because of housing. We have homelessness because of [a shortage of ] housing."
Garcetti persuaded the Walgrees chain to allow housing above the drug store. "They fought it because it was not the Walgreens way," he said.
The chain eventually went along with the plan.
Part of the collateral damage of the rush to expensive development in Hollywood, Garcetti said, is that the very people who demonstrated and lobbied to make Hollywood livable now may be forced out of their modest apartments.
I know what he's talking about. The hot developers on Hollywood Boulevard, with their theaters, hotels and condos, are taking credit for the new Hollywood, as are the operators of clubs.
But there were men and women of modest means engaged in the fight long before developers dared to venture there. As a reporter and a columnist, I covered the way in which courageous activists, working with the Los Angeles Police Department, drove the drug dealers and gangs from Yucca Street in Hollywood, risking assault by some pretty fierce and remorseless people. My daughter and son-in-law live on Yucca Street. The main disadvantage there today is the constant noise and dust from the luxury high rise going up nearby.
Hollywood is something of a test case in the affordable housing fight. Having wandered through its grim streets for years, I am glad to see it beginning to shine. Young people pack Musso & Frank, drinking martinis as if they had invented them. The Hollywood Roosevelt no longer looks dreary. The Pantages is great. The Hollywood/Vine subway station is a design classic.
But off the boulevards there are many old apartments, looking much as they did when Raymond Chandler wrote about them, as well as bungalows and old courtyard residences where, I bet, many a drunken screenwriter pounded a typewriter. But something must give way, as the two prominent Reform synagogues found when they decided to expand.
This is the dilemma of 21st-century Los Angeles.
Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new housing project directly across the street from Temple Beth Zion in the Carthay Circle district neighborhood on Olympic Blvd. Photo by Dan Kacvinski