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Blythe Street Gets a Revitalization Boost : Housing: New 50-unit affordable apartment complex is regarded as a big step toward improving the quality of life for the area’s mostly poor residents.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A few years ago, a trip down Blythe Street would dead-end at a police barricade near Willis Avenue. And anyone who wandered that far usually met with trouble.

The block was home to drug dealers--haunting the street’s dozen or so vacant apartment buildings--and the Blythe Street Dukes, a gang whose members used to shoot at street lights for practice and at people to settle scores.

Stepped-up police enforcement has helped bring down the crime rate over the past two years, but the completion of a striking 50-unit, $7.5-million affordable housing complex may provide the street its most significant revitalization, city officials say.

Offering low-income housing combined with social services, the new Regency 50 building is a cooperative effort--pairing private and public agencies with the goal of improving the quality of life for the street’s 4,000-plus residents, mostly poor and mostly Latino.

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Its fresh appearance has some Blythe Street residents wondering if the building is too good to be true. They worry whether the block’s working poor even qualify to live there.

“I heard they have rules, very strict rules about living there,” said Maria Sorriano, 45, who lives about a half-block from the building. “We hope they are truly concerned about working with the rest of us.”

Funding for the building, situated at 14540 Blythe St., has come from a combination of private investment, government loans, grants and tax incentive programs. It is scheduled to open as soon the gas meters are connected, which officials say will be a matter of days. About 20 of the building’s 50 units have been leased so far. The apartment complex will feature a Head Start program, as well as language and parenting classes available to all residents of the street. Tenants will also have use of a sand-filled playground and a full-length basketball court.

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The programs will be run by the nonprofit Latin American Civic Assn., partners in the project with Nelson Network Inc., a private developer.

If the project succeeds, similar buildings very likely will follow, said Robert Moncrief, director of major projects for the Los Angeles Housing Department.

The city loaned most of the money to get the project started, until private money was found. “And that’s exactly what happened--to our tremendous relief,” Moncrief said.

The city’s total share in the project is about $3.5 million, with $3.6 million in private investment money coming through the California Equity Fund, an agency that disburses federal tax breaks to private investors in affordable housing projects. A bank loan to Nelson and the Latin American Civic Assn., or LACA, covered the remaining $400,000 cost of the building.

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Built in a contemporary style, the architect used Lego toy building blocks as a model for the design, said Roger Nelson, owner of Nelson Network Inc. Its most striking feature is an imposing, rectangular glass-and-tile community room that rests at an angle on a low bank in front of the building.

Members of the Immaculate Heart Community/Blythe Street Project--a local group providing training and counseling to residents--say they wonder how many of the street’s residents even qualify to live at the Regency.

“It sounds wonderful,” said Margaret-Rose Welch, director of the Immaculate Heart Community/Blythe Street Project. “But is the idea to include the families who live here--the families that may have a son in the gang--or to push them out?”

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Nelson said the qualifications for residency are strict but not unreasonable: no history of evictions, no criminal record and a steady, verifiable source of income.

Neighbors agree that for many, moving to the building would be an improvement.

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A typical two- or three-bedroom apartment--scheduled to rent for $300 to $700 a month--can be as large as 1,200 square feet and include an 16-foot-high cathedral ceiling. Some units have balconies with views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

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Security at the building will include a 24-hour guard at the front office, which is protected with bulletproof windows. From his office, the guard can monitor the building with the help of video cameras.

LACA Executive Director Irene Tovar said she is committed to sharing the building and its services with building neighbors. “Part of our job is to assess the needs of the community. We must gain the credibility of this neighborhood if we are to survive,” she said.

The building’s private developer purchased the property in 1989 for $1.2 million. Nelson said he was persuaded to build affordable housing because of low-interest loans and tax breaks.

Nelson said the deal won’t make him rich. But it allowed him to split the cost of developer fees--about $500,000--with the LACA, and to receive a share of the tax breaks.

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The Regency 50 is one of the first Valley housing projects assisted by the California Equity Fund.

“There are other projects under way in Los Angeles using the federal tax incentive program,” said Steve Porras, vice president of the Los Angeles-based fund. “But they are targeted toward a higher income population. Those projects don’t get the kind of support from local government that the Blythe Street project got. This was a good investment in a part of the city that really needs the help.”


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