Custom Apartments Give Handicapped Their Independence

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alan McDowell, afflicted with cerebral palsy, relaxed Sunday in his brand-new one-bedroom apartment with low cabinets and railings in the bathtub and around the commode--all for $160 a month.

"It's much easier, because I can reach things," the 26-year-old former Gardena resident said.

Eva Newton, 68, who has a bad back and gets about with the aid of a walker, hasn't had a place she could call her own since a fire ravaged her residence in 1987. Her rent also is about $160 a month.

"This is just unbelievable, just so beautiful," said Newton, who had been living with her daughter. "I can feel independent."

And so it was at Sunday's ribbon-cutting for FAME Arms, a complex of 40 one-bedroom apartments for the handicapped.

The First African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Good Shepherd Center for Independent Living developed the apartments in the 2400 block of Western Avenue with $3.9 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. The church will be responsible for repaying the loans.

The apartments feature wheelchair ramps and patios, or balconies that are wheelchair accessible. All of the units have sturdy handrails in the bathrooms.

The most specialized apartments are set up especially for wheelchair-bound people. They have wide entryways with ample space for turns. The peep hole in the front door is low. So are the intercom controls.

The bathrooms have drive-in showers with benches. And there are roll-in spaces beneath the stove and sink in the kitchen. Hot water pipes are padded and insulated to prevent burns.

The disabled residents who attended the opening said they had spent most of their lives struggling up stairs and squeezing into bathrooms in traditional housing.

For an able-bodied person, it would be akin to climbing a five-foot-tall step before entering the front door.

Mayor Tom Bradley and more than 100 city officials and church members turned out to mark the opening of the three-story Cape Cod-style complex, which was four years in the making. Residents began moving in last week.

"(The disabled) will enjoy living here just as anyone with full use of their limbs," Bradley said.

The architectural firm of John Williams and Partners designed the complex, which features laundry rooms on all levels. There is a courtyard behind the apartments with a rose garden and palm trees. There is also a weight room, but the equipment has yet to be delivered.

In addition to being well equipped, the apartments are affordable. Federal rent subsidies allow disabled, low-income residents to live in the apartments for 30% of their monthly income.

To qualify, a single resident must have an annual income of $14,600 or less. Couples cannot have an income exceeding $16,700. Most receive state disability payments.

Only about five of the 40 units were occupied on Sunday. Four more apartments will be occupied each day until the building is full, said building manager Richard Owens. There is a waiting list with about 100 names, Owens said.

"People are calling all the time," he said. "There's a tremendous need for handicapped housing."

Peggy Hill, the First AME Church's housing director, called the apartments the church's first such effort.

"We hope to be able to do more in the future," she said.

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