Koreatown, with its $1.6-million chandeliers, is about to get some affordable housing units

Koreatown’s skyline has been defined in recent years by ritzy high-rises with $1.6-million chandeliers, rooftop lap pools and vertigo-inducing rents.

Thursday morning, on the neighborhood's northern edge, community activists cheered the groundbreaking for a different kind of development. 

On a block with a pawn shop, a hookah lounge and a $2.99-and-up discount store, a new apartment building is slated to house 100 low-income families.

The studio-size to three-bedroom apartments at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Second Street will be available to families making between $17,000 and $61,000.

They will pay as little as $560 for a two-bedroom apartment, with on-site social services and after-school activities included, developers said Thursday.

Residents will also annually receive a transit pass to use the Metro line that passes half a block away.

The project, called the Meridian Apartments, marks a milestone for civic activism in Koreatown, community members said.

The new housing was set into motion as part of a deal with the developers of the Vermont, a 464-unit, upscale, two-tower high-rise in the heart of Koreatown, and a coalition of community groups.

Those groups demanded that the neighborhood get something in exchange for the more than $17 million in taxpayer-funded benefits the luxury project received through the Community Redevelopment Agency.

Rents at the Vermont, which was sold in 2014 for $283 million, top $4,500 for a two-bedroom, according to recent listings. 

The developer, J.H. Snyder, agreed to partner with a community organization to get affordable housing units built in lieu of including low-income units at the Vermont, in addition to providing $1 million toward a community center.

Snyder ultimately turned over the affordable housing project to AMCAL Multi-Housing Inc., which partnered with the nonprofit Korean Churches for Community Development to get the apartments built.

“Four years ago, the Korean community for the first time organized together,” KCCD President Hyepin Im said. “It was a new day for the community.”

Im said that the tents lining the block highlight the need for more apartments that poor people can afford.

“We really can’t build enough of them,” said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes the northeast corner of Koreatown. 

O'Farrell said the Vermont/Beverly metro stop, which opened in 1999, never brought the development and density to the area that planners had hoped for, adding that the new apartments may mark the beginning of a transit-oriented transformation for the area.

The $45.9-million project, which will also include 4,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space, is slated to be completed by the fall of 2017. 

For more California news, follow @vicjkim.

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