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Woodbury University architecture graduate finds faith through work

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Woodbury University alumnus Justin Yap is helping provide permanent supportive housing for the homeless in downtown Los Angeles through his work with the 82nd Street Development, which is building 16 units.
(Courtesy of Justin Yap)

There was a time, less than a year ago, when Woodbury University graduate Justin Yap says he was somewhat lost.

The 29-year-old felt disconnected from his obligation to service, guided by his strong Christian faith, and seemed disinterested in being a Bay Area architect.

Many of the projects in which Yap had participated or led hadn’t produced the results he desired.

“I was previously working in healthcare, senior-living type of work,” he said in a phone interview. “They ended up being 10-, 15-year projects, and it was really discouraging because the work never finished.”

While contemplating a potential switch to the ministry, Yap asked for help.

“Actually, I was kind of praying about it a lot,” he said. “I asked [God], ‘Where do you want me to go? Am I really going to be designing for the rich or am I going to be kind of putting myself out there and serving the Lord with it?’”

It wasn’t long before Yap received a message in a bottle or, rather, a 24-foot-long shipping container.

The architecture graduate was invited through a recruiter to participate in the 82nd Street Development in south Los Angeles, which is building homes out of modular structures for some of the city’s neediest residents.

“It is low-income housing to help people get out and back into the normal daily routine,” Yap said. “It was basically an answer to my prayers.”

A side benefit of the job was the use of modulars, or prefabricated homes or buildings constructed off-site.

Yap already employed designs for modular buildings in previous work and felt a perfect fit for the south Los Angeles venture.

His ability to quickly jump into a new project did not surprise Yap’s former instructor, Woodbury architecture adjunct faculty member Mark Owen.

“He was a very good student, very creative and worked very hard,” Owen said of Yap. “He cared a lot about his work, and he was fun to be around, very creative and explored lots of ideas. He did a lot of high-quality work.”

An organization called FlyawayHomes, which had already successfully housed 32 homeless people in a separate project on West Colden Avenue last fall, is in charge of the 82nd Street Development with shipping containers being manufactured by Kuvella Modular, based in New Mexico.

“We’re basically taking off of that Colden template right now of how the units are situated, but trying to make it better,” Yap said.

The 9,301-square-foot 82nd Street Development site is expected to consist of 16 two-bedroom units, one restroom and small living area per unit, and a shared community room.

The development is expected to house 32 residents and a manager.

Yap said he isn’t sure when the development will be completed, but he has been impressed with the work’s progress.

Yap joined the project in September and, since then, the schematic designs have been completed, while Flyaway has zipped through the permitting process.

“We’re on a really, really tight schedule, and it’s amazing to see how fast this has gone,” Yap said.

Though the aim of the project is to save families from the streets, the 82nd Street Development’s first beneficiary may be Yap.

“This has been a blessing for me,” Yap said.

andrew.campa@latimes.com

Twitter @campadresports