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Reduced participation, rising costs factors for Burbank Housing Corp. activity centers closing, officials say

Though officials with the Burbank Housing Corp. are trying to mitigate the impacts of closing its after-school activity centers, the Burbank City Council believes the situation could have been handled better.

Judith Arandes, the chief executive of nonprofit, detailed to the City Council during a meeting Tuesday the reason board members unanimously voted in September to shut down its four student facilities — Elmwood Achievement Center and the Verdugo, Catalina and Peyton-Grismer activity centers.

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Arandes explained that several factors led to the board’s decision to close the centers, one of which was the rising cost of the program, which is funded by rents the organization receives from its tenants.

The Burbank Housing Corp. manages low-income housing for those in the community that need it. It currently manages more than 300 affordable rental units in the city.

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Had the after-school facilities been operational this school year, Arandes said it would have cost the Burbank Housing Corp. about $7,733 per student for the year for the roughly 47 students who would have visited the centers daily. In 2014, she said, it would have cost the nonprofit about $5,257 per student each year for the roughly 69 students who visited the centers daily.

However, the statistic that particularly troubled board members was that most of the centers’ budgets were going toward students who did not live in the low-income properties owned by the Burbank Housing Corp.

Out of the 104 Burbank students registered for the after-school programs this year, only about 32 of them live in the organization’s managed properties, Arandes said.

“When we looked hard at our numbers, we realized we were largely utilizing income received from our lower-income residents to provide services for mostly non-BHC residents,” she said. “In our view, this was neither fair nor proper.”

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To alleviate the impact of the closures on families who rely on the service, the nonprofit teamed up with another organization, the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley, to provide a temporary after-school program to those that still need a place for their children to be supervised.

The program will start Nov. 5 and run through May 31 at the Burbank Housing Corp.’s Elmwood center. Arandes said 14 students have signed up for the temporary program so far.

While the after-school programs remain an important asset to these low-income communities, Arandes said their reason for existence has changed.

She explained that from 1996 to 1998, the then-Burbank Redevelopment Agency set out to make the neighborhood at the 100 block of West Elmwood Avenue — at the time an area with one of the highest amount of gang activity and shootings in the city — a safer place for its low-income residents.

During that time, the Elmwood center was created and established a diversionary program to reduce the number of children in the neighborhood who joined gangs. Arandes said it was a pivotal program that helped turn the area around.

The program was so successful that it was replicated three times. The Verdugo Activity Center opened in 2002, followed by the Catalina center in 2004 and the Peyton-Grismer center in 2005.

The goal for the centers was to provide academic assistance to students, as well as give them a safe place where they could have positive interactions with role models.

As time went on, other nonprofits like the local Boys & Girls Club and the Burbank Community YMCA, as well as Burbank Unified and the city Parks and Recreation Department were also improving its programs for the community. Enrollment at the Burbank Housing Corp.’s activity centers started to drop.

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Eventually, Arandes said, her organization’s centers did their job of creating safer environments for its residents, possibly to a fault.

“The truth is that we loved our activity centers and we wanted them to work — we wanted them to work really badly,” she said. “We resisted the fact that the program was a victim of its own success and was no longer relevant or attractive to most of our residents.”

Though there are fewer families interested in the Burbank Housing Corp.’s centers, Arandes said she and her colleagues believe there is a need for a specialized after-school program for special education students.

“A program like this is certainly beyond the scope, capacity and mandate of BHC, but it’s something that, in our mind, is worth exploring,” she said.

Although the organization is trying to make up for the loss of its centers, a few City Council members remained disappointed with the Burbank Housing Corp.’s approach to notifying families and the city about the termination of the program.

Several families spoke out during the Sept. 25 City Council meeting, saying they were not notified about the closures. Council members that night also said they found out about them just days prior to the meeting.

Councilman Tim Murphy it was a mistake for the nonprofit to suddenly shut down the facilities on a community already marginalized and struggling.

Councilman Bob Frutos added that none of the City Council-appointed members of the organization’s board bothered to notify himself or his colleagues about the changes.

“Let’s acknowledge those mistakes, let’s move forward and do something great,” Murphy said.

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