Low-cost housing in demand


The Hollywood Community Housing Corp. wasn’t giving away housing vouchers Thursday -- just the slim chance of securing a subsidized apartment in a new, 58-unit building.

Even so, by 11 a.m. more than 700 people were waiting in a line that snaked down Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles -- and housing advocates were worried enough about potential unrest that they called police to help manage the crowd.

Ultimately, everything ended peacefully with 240 people getting applications for a lottery for the 58 new units and the rest leaving empty-handed, some in tears.


The bad economy coupled with the shortage of affordable housing in Los Angeles almost guarantees such scenes. Many in line told variations of the same story in explaining why they waited for hours in the baking sun for the chance to apply for apartments that will still cost up to $1,023 for a two-bedroom: They are crowded into small apartments for which they pay almost more than they can manage.

Concepcion Bonilla, 36, said she shares a two-bedroom apartment in Pico Union with her husband and three children. The rent is $1,400 a month -- a stretch for them on her husband’s wages as a driver. And Bonilla is not wild about the neighborhood; she noted that children had been shot on nearby streets in recent years.

Bill Harris, the housing corporation’s executive director, said that affordable housing projects such as Mariposa Place, as this one is called, are becoming more difficult to finance. Though the popping of the housing bubble has brought down the price of property, the credit crisis has made financing more difficult. And tax credits, an arcane but crucial financing tool, have dried up.

As Harris and his staff handed out the applications in the parking lot of a Los Angeles church, Maura Johnson, the agency’s housing director, paced the pavement behind them, trying to work out the financing on other projects.

Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti said he planned to ask federal housing officials and the Obama administration to use some of the bailout money to close financing gaps on such projects.

Back at the line, the housing agency’s director of resident services, Tripp Mills, used a police loudspeaker to try to persuade some in the crowd to go home.

There was no chance, he told those at the end of the line, that they would get an application.

La Shandra Kelley, 31, who said she works nights and sleeps less than five hours a day while she juggles taking care of her 9-month-old with her job at Lowe’s, was among those who refused to leave.

“People are just hoping,” she said.