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New housing for homeless people could rise in Chatsworth after vote at L.A. City Hall

Site of proposed homeless housing development in Chatsworth.
The proposed site of the Topanga Apartments in Chatsworth.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Dozens of new apartments for homeless people could rise in Chatsworth after the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to fund a rare proposal to build such housing in the northwestern stretches of the San Fernando Valley.

The Topanga Apartments would be the first project in Council District 12 funded by Propositon HHH, a $1.2-billion bond measure approved by voters for homeless housing. Until now, it was the only district in L.A. that had yet to approve any HHH housing.

The plan had drawn concerns from Chatsworth residents, the neighborhood council, and the councilman recently elected to represent the area, John Lee, who had said the proposed project was “out of scale” with the neighborhood and was pushed through the approval process without enough community outreach.

Lee said Tuesday, however, that he was encouraged that the developer had pledged to hold a community meeting next week.

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Lee voted with the rest of the council to fund the Chatsworth proposal and other homeless housing projects in L.A., saying in a statement that he had done so “with the firm understanding that there is a process of community input and much work ahead.”

Advocates for the homeless and residents backing the proposed project broke out in applause after the decision Tuesday, holding up blue signs that read “BEDS NOT SIDEWALKS.”

Dozens of people had turned out to a recent protest in Chatsworth to oppose the plan. Chatsworth Neighborhood Council president Jeff Hammond said the site near an elementary school was not appropriate and the proposed building, which the developer said could reach six stories, would be too tall.

Residents flooded city officials with letters pleading for them to build somewhere else.

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“Are you aware of how dangerous and ridiculous this is?” resident Jason Loughridge wrote in a letter, arguing that it would bring drug abuse and crime close to young children. “Do our kids need to see and be near this?”

But other residents and homeless advocates urged the council to fund the Chatsworth project, saying that such housing was needed all over Los Angeles. With the bulk of the HHH money now committed, they said, it’s unlikely that there would be another chance to spend those dollars in District 12.

“We are in a crisis situation. People need to be housed and off the streets. ... We will harden our children to become prejudicial and unempathetic if we do not show by example that we care about our fellow man,” another resident, Betty Toto, wrote in a letter.

Council members pledged last year to support at least 222 new units of homeless housing in each of their districts, but some parts of the city have lagged far behind while others — generally poorer districts — have far exceeded the goal.

Some council members had cited that gap to explain why they had pushed forward with the Chatsworth plan but backed the request of another councilman, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, to hold off on approving funding for an HHH project in his district. Harris-Dawson already had more than 500 such units approved for his South L.A. district before Tuesday’s vote.

Lee said that neither he nor the last two representatives of District 12 had rejected any HHH proposals for the area, but none had ever reached the council for approval before. He touted their earlier efforts to bring the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission to the district, saying the shelter had been successful, in part, because it was responsive to community concerns.

“This is the standard that I will hold the Topanga Apartments to,” Lee said in a statement after the vote. “I’m calling for the developer to work in coordination with my office and the community to deliver a project that offers the best environment for those in need and is embraced by the surrounding community.”

The Chatsworth project was proposed by Affirmed Housing Group, a San Diego-based developer that specializes in affordable and supportive housing and has other housing projects built or under construction in Los Angeles.

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The firm and its executives have given more than $15,000 in political donations to L.A. city officials and candidates in the past four years, including contributions to Harris-Dawson and Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Mitch O’Farrell, city records show. Lee also received a campaign contribution from the company this summer as he competed for his Valley seat.

In reaction to neighborhood concerns, Affirmed Housing Group executives said they were willing to adjust the building design.

President and Chief Executive James Silverwood said they would be “working with the local community and Councilmember Lee in the coming months to ensure that our development is one that everyone including homeless advocates and the community will be proud of.”


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