A Los Angeles city agency Thursday approved loaning $312,000 to a church-based group to construct eight townhouses in Pacoima for poor families willing to invest 500 hours each of "sweat equity" in helping build their own homes.
The Community Redevelopment Agency recommended the loan--which must receive final authorization from the City Council--be made to the San Fernando Valley chapter of Habitat for Housing, an international "housing ministry" whose most famous volunteer has been former President Jimmy Carter.
The $1.4-million eight-unit complex in Pacoima will be the first project in Los Angeles for Habitat, said Valley chapter Vice President Rachel Dunne, who likened her group's home-building programs to old-fashioned barn-raising events in which neighbors and friends help with construction.
Habitat tries to build a sense of community that is the long-range antidote to the inner-city alienation many blame for the rioting and looting in Los Angeles last week, Dunne said.
Home ownership, especially if earned through hard work, provides people with a stake in their community that makes it unlikely they will destroy or steal, or tolerate such behavior in others, said Dunne, a geologist who got involved with Habitat through her Granada Hills church.
Ken Karlstad, Habitat's western regional director, said his phone has been ringing constantly since the riots, with inquiries from those who want to help Habitat remedy the housing shortage to ease social tensions. "Everyone wants to help here," he said. "As soon as we can identify some projects, there'll be a tremendous outpouring of workers for it."
Karlstad said he hopes to talk soon with businessman and 1984 Olympics czar Peter V. Ueberroth, whom Mayor Tom Bradley named to head the nonprofit Rebuild LA effort, about a role for Habitat in redeveloping South Los Angeles.
Ueberroth has said that Rebuild LA, fueled by voluntarism and corporate financial aid, intends to tackle the root causes of inner-city despair and poverty and leave South Los Angeles a better place to live than it was before the riots.
"Ours is not a handout program, but a hand-up program," Dunne said. "We give a helping hand to the needy. It is important that the participants help build their own homes."
Habitat will require that the families they select to buy the Pacoima units put in 500 hours of labor--"sweat equity" in real estate slang--on their future homes, including 150 hours of work on the construction of another unit.
With the future owners' work and donations of labor and materials from others, the cost of the Pacoima units should range from $50,000 for a two-bedroom unit to $62,500 for a four-bedroom townhouse, Habitat has estimated.
That should make the units affordable by families making 35% to 50% of the Los Angeles area's median income, the income bracket Habitat wants to help. A family of four with an income of $21,750 or less could qualify to buy one of the units.
Buyers will also need to make a 1% down payment--ranging from $500 to $625--and monthly payments of $300 to $400, including property taxes, insurance and maintenance fees.
A Habitat trust, which will continue to own the land beneath the project, will ensure that when units are resold, the price will remain low and they will be reserved for low-income buyers.
To make the project work, Habitat still needs donated materials. It is also seeking individuals, groups or companies who will contribute $35,000 to "adopt" a prospective owner and work with him on the project, Dunne said.
Habitat's Pacoima project is to be located at 10906 Laurel Canyon Blvd. The group's purchase offer for the site is in escrow.
"Last weekend, we were going to have a lot-cleaning party at the site, but we called it off because of the troubles," Dunne said.
It probably would have been safe to proceed with Saturday's chores except that volunteers would probably have been nervous about entering the area during the riot period, Dunne said.
Over the past 15 years, Habitat has built more than 3,500 homes for very low-income families throughout the United States.
The group has more than a half-dozen projects in Southern California, the largest being 48 condos in Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County. Graffiti and crime? "We haven't got any," Karlstad said. And to date, no foreclosures.