New apartments planned for Rose Avenue would be the first in Venice to serve young people leaving the foster care system

By Gary Walker

An architectural rendering depicts the 35-unit complex planned for 720 Rose Ave.

Maybe it was something to do with the Thanksgiving spirit. Bucking a trend of intense verbal clashes over plans for housing the homeless in Venice, plans to build a 35-unit apartment complex on Rose Avenue for transition-age foster youth and the chronically homeless received very little pushback during a Nov. 20 neighborhood council meeting.

Nonprofit affordable housing builder the Venice Community Housing Corp. wants to replace its current two-story offices at 720 Rose Ave., across the street from the Whole Foods parking lot, with a four-story complex that would include office space. The council voted 9-4 to support the project and send it to the city Planning Commission for consideration in January.

Both VCHC Executive Director Becky Dennison and Alison Hurst, executive director of the Venice-based homeless advocacy nonprofit Safe Place for Youth, said former foster youth might be the fastest-growing demographic of Venice’s homeless population.

“This is going to help [reduce] the number of young people who are dying on our streets,” Hurst said. “It sets a precedent for Venice to build more housing, especially for young people who are working in our community but who don’t have a place to live.”

Supporters of the Rose Avenue project came to the meeting holding red roses and wearing black T-shirts displaying the phrase “I support housing for unhoused people in the neighborhood.”

“There’s a very loud contingent of voices that unfortunately have been very negative about what we’re trying to do. That’s
why people wanted us to get the T-shirts — to show that there are people in the community who support these types of worthy projects,” Dennison said.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 5,000 unaccompanied youth with connections to the foster system die each year from assault, illness or suicide.

Locally, despite the resources that local nonprofits bring to the table, “there is absolutely no supportive housing for them in Venice,” Dennison said.

In terms of opposition, it was the building itself — not its purpose — that was cause for discussion.

“Employees from La Cabaña, Whole Foods and MedMen already park on my street, so I’m not able to park on my own street anymore. I’m all for affordable housing, but not at the expense of everyone else in the community,” said Rachel Plasencia, who lives about a block away from the project.

The biggest sticking point was granting an exception to the Venice Specific Plan in order to allow a building height of 45 feet instead of 35. Opponents say recommending a 45-foot project to city planners will open the door for larger buildings in the area, while supporters argue that the neighborhood council has granted plenty of exceptions before.

“Those who opposed this project talked about mass, scale, character and precedent, but as I’ve said in response, that train left the station a long time ago,” said neighborhood council member Cindy Chambers, who supported the project. “I found it disingenuous to oppose a project based on those criteria when we confront this issue all the time. To me, it was more about who were being housed rather than the structure itself.”

If the project continues to win approvals, Dennison estimates construction can begin as early as summer.