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Private Groups Plan Own Low-Cost Housing Project

Times Staff Writer

A coalition of church leaders and community organizers, stressing the dearth of new affordable housing in Los Angeles, have decided to press forward themselves by seeking funds to construct their own development of 500 low-cost homes in South-Central Los Angeles.

Using a much-praised, church-based housing program in a run-down New York City neighborhood as its role model, the group is hoping to provide homes for $50,000 to families with annual incomes of $18,000 to $26,000.

As yet unclear is the site for the 25-acre project, to be called Nehemiah West. Also still to be determined is where much of the $27 million needed to build the homes will come from.

At a City Hall press conference Wednesday, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony, flanked by Mayor Tom Bradley and leaders of the South-Central Organizing Committee and the United Neighborhoods Organization, pledged $3 million of Los Angeles Archdiocese funds to the development. The Roman Catholic leader said he also will seek to raise an additional $5 million from other church and community groups.

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Bradley, for his part, announced his support of the plan but he added that he could not offer any city funds or land at this time. Rather, the mayor said, he will “lead the drive” to seek state and federal subsidies.

The proposal as currently conceived calls for construction of at least 500 three-bedroom, 1,150-square-foot houses. Mahony’s $3-million commitment and other funds he raises would be used for a no-interest, five-year construction loan. Coalition leaders said they would try to keep per-home costs at a minimum through government subsidies and the hiring of builders willing to work for minimal fees.

Leaders of the SCOC and UNO expressed hope that Nehemiah West would serve as a pilot project for a series of affordable housing projects in working-class neighborhoods across Los Angeles.

‘Free of Gangs, Drugs’

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“Our housing is run-down, dilapidated, decrepit and owned by others,” said Bishop E. Lynn Brown of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. “Because this will be a community and not a scattering of houses, it will be safe and free of gangs and drugs.”

SCOC board member Gwen Cordova added that at this juncture a grass-roots approach appears necessary to stir government action.

“I think everybody should be doing more--the federal, the state and the city governments,” Cordova said after the news conference. “I would say there has been a hopeless feeling--that nothing was happening to make the changes needed.”

Coalition members said they are exploring several possible sites for Nehemiah West, but want to keep most of them private so landowners won’t hike their prices.

The Wednesday news conference was called after Bradley, stuck in traffic Sunday afternoon, missed a large South-Central rally organized by the community groups, where he was to have announced his support of the program.

Bradley drew criticism for missing the rally, as he has previously for the city’s lagging efforts to construct affordable housing.

A report issued last December by the mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee for Affordable Housing called for the city to increase its current housing resources by 300%. The report said that 40,000 Los Angeles families live in garages and 150,000 households spend more than half of their paychecks for rent.

Currently, the city builds about 1,500 low-rent apartments a year, using a combination of local property tax funds, private credit investment and federal funds.

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The proposal is modeled after the nationally recognized Nehemiah development in Brooklyn, which has provided 1,200 low-cost brick row houses since 1982. The New York development, named after the Biblical prophet sent to rebuild Jerusalem, was funded with an $8-million revolving construction fund and city subsidies of free land, tax abatements and cash.


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