New City-Financed Apartment : Escape From Skid Row--a Family's Nightmare Ends

Times Staff Writer

For Villa Cuffie, a 25-year-old mother of two young children, the "nightmare" of living in a Skid Row hotel is coming to end.

Cuffie and her children are one of eight families set to move into a new city-financed apartment building south of downtown Los Angeles. It is the first housing project created to get low-income, working families out of dingy downtown hotels.

With a $624,000 low-interest loan from the Community Redevelopment Agency, the 2-year-old nonprofit L.A. Family Housing Corp. built the eight-unit Casa Familia III apartments on Adams Boulevard and San Pedro Street. Families will begin moving into the modern, pastel-orange building Nov. 1.

"I was just expecting a plain, ordinary apartment," said Cuffie, looking over her freshly painted and carpeted two-bedroom, two-story unit Wednesday. "This is beautiful." With their own patio and garden area, and play equipment in the courtyard, Cuffie's children are anxious to get into their new home. "It's pretty," said 5-year-old Monique.

For two years, the family has been living in a small room in the Frontier Hotel near 5th and Main streets, a corner notorious for its hustlers, drunks and drug dealers. Cuffie said she and her children moved downtown after they were forced to leave their Compton apartment. Newly divorced and living on welfare at the time, she said she did not have the several hundred dollars or more in deposits needed to get another apartment.

Living on Skid Row "has been like a nightmare," Cuffie said. "(The children) have seen people get killed, robbed and busted in the head. . . . That's just the way it is."

No Safe Area

Cuffie, who is now a paid social worker at Para Los Ninos, a nonprofit Skid Row organization for children, said there is no safe area near the hotel for her children to play. "You can't let them (go out and) play with winos, pimps and drug pushers (around)," she said.

The Casa Familia building is the latest strategy in a city-funded effort to get families with children out of downtown hotels. It is in addition to a separate city-assisted program operated by Las Familias del Pueblo, a nonprofit Skid Row service organization, that has relocated 166 families to existing apartments out of Skid Row in recent years.

The new apartment building represents the first construction of new, affordable family units expressly for some of the hundreds of families living in downtown hotels. Rents will range from $250 to $300 per month.

The building is part of a plan to build a series of medium-size apartment buildings on vacant lots, rather than replace or refurbish existing units. The new buildings would be in residential areas on the outer edges of the central business district--where many hotel residents work.

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