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108-unit apartment complex opens for homeless residents on skid row

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentLos Angeles International Airport

A sleek apartment complex opened Thursday in the heart of skid row, offering what backers hope will be a beacon for the neighborhood's homeless residents and a portal to an increasingly revitalized east side of downtown Los Angeles.

The $28-million Gateways Apartments, at the corner of 5th and San Pedro streets, has amenities such as an open-air atrium, solar panels and a smoking lounge with its own filtration system. The eye-catching design contrasts sharply with the more institutional facades of the nearby homeless shelters.

All 108 single units are designated for homeless people, and some are set aside for people with AIDs, mental illness or a long history without shelter.

“We're taking people really right off the street,” said Anita Nelson, chief executive officer of SRO Housing Corp., which developed the building on an empty lot purchased for $4 million.

Los Angeles County has pledged $8 million over 10 years to provide on-site mental health treatment, and medical, drug and alcohol treatment will be provided. But residents, who will pay 30% of their income or government assistance as rent, do not have to be drug- and alcohol-free or mentally stabilized to qualify, officials said.

Officials from the White House to the mayor’s office have repeatedly said the combination of subsidized housing and supportive services can end chronic homelessness in the next two years. With a 102-unit project developed by another nonprofit, the Skid Row Housing Trust, set to open early next year, the neighborhood is in something of a building boom.

But the row of tarp-covered shopping carts glimpsed through an opening in the party tent, where politicians and housing officials snacked on baby quiches and cupcakes, illustrated the difficulty of the task. Some 58,000 of the county's residents are homeless, including up to 2,000 living on skid row.

Over 30 years, SRO Housing has developed 1,473 permanent supportive housing units, the group said. The Gateways Apartments took five years to complete after the economic downturn in 2009 disrupted efforts to secure financing. Federal cuts in housing budgets are making financing for subsidized housing more elusive than ever, Nelson said.

“Those channels have all clogged up,” said Larry Adamson, head of the downtown Midnight Mission. “I'm afraid with the cuts coming from HUD will set us back a year or two.”

Still, advocates believe the new project will help reshape skid row's image and encourage further housing development to help the poor and destitute.

“When you see the quality of the project, it really sets off the corner,” said Skid Row Housing Trust head Mike Alvidrez. “What is says is we're serious about making a change.”

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Twitter: @geholland

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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U.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentLos Angeles International Airport
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