Quality Homes for South-Central

South-Central Los Angeles won't lose the high-quality Vermont Village Plaza project after all, thanks to a surprising and welcome unanimity in City Hall after weeks of acrimonious debate.

City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas prevailed Wednesday when he and his colleagues all voted to override Mayor Richard Riordan's veto of the $15-million project. However, Riordan had withdrawn his objection after the deal was sweetened to reduce the public subsidy for each townhouse involved and to increase the commercial space earmarked for stores, which residents in the adjacent neighborhood of 81st Street and Vermont Avenue desperately want.

Many promises were made after the 1992 riots; not all were kept. First Interstate Bank is keeping this one. Though bank executives first proposed helping to fund construction of more than 100 low-rent units on the site of the old Pepperdine University campus, the project later went upscale, to 36 owner-occupied townhouses and half a dozen stores designed by Daniel Solomon, one of the nation's top urban architects. The development's quality is rarely seen in inner-city projects, where financial and other pressures usually result in the cutting of costs, and corners.

First Interstate deserves even more credit for persevering during a political brawl between Riordan and Ridley-Thomas, who represents the area. With Wednesday's compromise, all the parties involved will win, and that includes South-Central L.A.

After the mayor's veto, the bank made the deal more attractive by adding $550,000 to reduce the taxpayers' subsidy from more than $90,000 per unit to closer to $70,000 per unit. Public subsidies typically reduce the purchase price of new homes to make the units more affordable in disadvantaged neighborhoods. In this case, the proposed subsidies were higher than average because of the unusually high quality of the townhouses and the city's longstanding commitment to pay prevailing wages on publicly financed construction projects. The taxpayers will benefit from the bank's additional investment, but the biggest winners will be first-time home buyers who will pay $88,000 to $132,000 for townhouses worth far more.

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