Last November 76% of Los Angeles voters said yes to Proposition HHH, the $1.2 billion bond measure to build 10,000 units of homeless housing over the next ten years. While the vast majority of Angelinos are ready to spend money get the homeless off the streets, it is a very different story when it comes to where to put them. It seems that most people want them somewhere else than in their neighborhood. A disturbing test case has been a proposed 49-unit apartment house at east 1st and Lorena Streets in Boyle Heights, which has been stalled for three years by community opposition and reluctance by LA City officials to confront the critics and move forward.
The developer is the venerable A Community of Friends (ACOF), headed by CEO Dora Leong Gallo. ACOF is a nonprofit affordable housing developer focused on permanent supportive housing for homeless people with mental health, addiction and other special needs or disabilities. They have built or bought and rehabbed 40 properties in the LA area that house almost 1,600 formerly homeless people.
The location for their proposed Lorena Plaza is a one-acre empty lot owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. To the west is the Evergreen Cemetery, whose residents surely can’t object to who might be living next door. To the east, however, is El Mercado, a combined market, restaurant, nightclub, and craft store. The owner, Tony Rosado, has bitterly fought the homeless housing project, fearing that mentally ill residents will interfere with his business. The plan is to have 10,000 feet of commercial space on the first floor, and only half of the 49 units are to go to mentally ill homeless persons. ACOF provides case management services for its formerly homeless tenants with mental problems.
The project has been approved by Metro, the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, and by the Los Angeles Planning Department. Rosado has appealed Planning’s decision to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM), chaired by Councilmember Jose Huizar. There, Huizar, generally an advocate for the homeless, has sided with El Mercado and kept the issue off the PLUM agenda for a year.
The LA Times sharply called Huizar to task about this in an April 23 editorial, titled, “Councilman Jose Huizar should be supporting a Boyle Heights homeless housing project, not thwarting it.” The Times editors wrote:
“Frankly, none of Huizar’s issues are compelling enough to justify such stubborn opposition to the project that he won’t even try to make it better. Neighborhoods are quick to oppose projects that house homeless people. That’s why developers spend hours at community meetings trying to allay fears and soliciting input. The opposition to this project, where only a fraction of the housing would be set aside for homeless people, does not bode well for a city that is hoping to build thousands of units of desperately needed housing across the city for chronically homeless people in the next decade.”
Boyle Heights is a low-income, heavily immigrant community. It is 94% Latino. Half are immigrants, and 35% are not citizens. The median income is $33,250, compared to LA County’s median of $55,000. 76% are renters. If homeless housing won’t fly here, it will meet even more determined opposition in upper-scale and better organized parts of town.