$10-million investment brings affordable housing to an expensive neighborhood
By Gary Walker
Alphonse Harris was busily sweeping and dusting his new apartment, even though it appeared to be clean, when he welcomed a reporter as his first visitor.
Figurines and knickknacks are arranged neatly on shelves, a guitar rests on a chair and watercolors decorate the walls.
“I made those [paintings] myself,” Harris, 67, says proudly.
He is one of two dozen formerly homeless men and women who have found a permanent home at the Westside’s newest affordable housing complex, the 20-unit Gateway Apartments on Beach Avenue in Del Rey.
Constructed in line with U.S. Green Building Council sustainability standards, the fashionable three-story building with a rooftop deck is nestled between a former light industrial area and bustling Washington Boulevard. Each one-bedroom apartment measures about 600 square feet, with additional room for on-site supportive services.
A joint venture of the nonprofit Venice Community Housing Corp. and Hollywood Community Housing, the Gateway Apartments represent a roughly $10-million investment in affordable housing — about $500,000 per unit — in one of the city’s hottest real estate markets. That price tag included paying fair market value for the land, the costs of doing so being one of the biggest obstacles to building affordable housing in Westside neighborhoods, Venice Community Housing Corp. Executive Director Becky Dennison said.
“Our goal is to develop affordable housing on the Westside to preserve the diversity of our communities and to provide access to people of all incomes,” said Dennison, who joined the organization in March. “We need dozens more buildings providing affordable and permanent supportive housing on the Westside, at a minimum.”
Homelessness in Los Angeles is in a “profound crisis, but while everyone complains about homelessness, there are so few who are willing to step forward with solutions,” City Councilman Mike Bonin told an audience of neighborhood leaders and affordable housing advocates during the grand opening of the complex last month.
As part of a push to address homelessness, Bonin and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are behind efforts to repurpose surplus public property — including the former Metro bus yard in Venice and a former fire station in Westchester — for affordable housing construction, thus eliminating prohibitive land acquisition costs.
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Jonathon Neumann said the council backed the project all the way.
“If our support of a project that helps those stakeholders who do not have a home get off the street and get the services they need results in one person that contributes to the greater good of the neighborhood, we have made Del Rey that much better,” Neumann said.
Matt Wersinger, who joined the council after construction of the Gateway Apartments began, said he had some initial uncertainties about the project but came around to support it due to Venice Community Housing Corp.’s past successes and supportive services.
“And when I attended the opening and met some of the people who are living there, I realized all the more what a personal impact this project is having,” he said.
Gateway tenant Patrick Ward, 53, is a 1980 graduate of Venice High School who spent time in and out of homeless centers and had been unsure he’d ever find permanent housing.
During the process, Ward was also worried about being able to furnish his new apartment, but he says Venice Community Housing once again came to the rescue.
“Moving in here has been such an easy transition, especially with them providing everything to get us started,” he said. “I’m back in the community where I grew up, and I love it.”
Harris, who suffers from a neurological condition that keeps him from steady work, said social services providers St. Joseph Center in Venice and OPCC (formerly Ocean Park Community Center) in Santa Monica offered crucial support during his homeless years and later with the process of applying for housing assistance.
“This is a beautiful story for me, with a really happy ending,” Harris said. “It already feels like home.”