Forty percent of complex set aside as low-income

Times Staff Writer

Capping a 12-year effort, city officials from Bell Gardens and Commerce last week celebrated the grand opening of Vista Del Rio, one of the largest single-family housing projects in southeast Los Angeles County.

The $18-million development includes 102 affordable Spanish Mission homes on a 10-acre parcel that straddles both cities. The three- and four-bedroom homes are in 1,700 square feet and feature wood-burning fireplaces and wall-to-wall carpeting. Fifty-three of the homes are in Commerce; 49 are in Bell Gardens.

The project, developed by the East Los Angeles Community Union, commonly known as TELACU, the Lee Group and Braemar Urban Ventures, set aside 40% of the homes for low-income buyers. The homes range from $189,000 to $219,000. All but two are sold.

"This project is ... evidence of the revitalization of our community," said David Lizarraga, president of TELACU, a nonprofit community development corporation that contains profit-making subsidiaries.

"Owning a home is the first rung in building assets for the community. We're extending that opportunity to those who otherwise wouldn't have that opportunity."

Vista Del Rio initially was marred by controversy, including the recall of three Bell Gardens City Council members who opposed the project. When the former property owner, Watkins Trucking Terminal, decided to sell the land only as one parcel, Bell Gardens and Commerce agreed to jointly help finance the project, which broke ground in 2000.

Rubina Toriz, 40, a Downey teacher and single parent who recently moved into a four-bedroom home on the Bell Gardens side of the development, doesn't talk about the politics, however. She just raves about finally owning a home after a lifetime of apartment living.

"I can't tell you how happy I am," Toriz said. "There's no way I could have afforded this beautiful home anywhere else. I get to come home every day without being afraid of the problems you get with an older home. I just love it."

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