Amid the rising homeless population in Los Angeles, affordable housing is being developed in one South L.A. neighborhood.
The Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (HCHC) broke ground on the Florence Mills Apartments in February, a mixed-use housing development in the Vernon/Central neighborhood of South Los Angeles.
The Florence Mills Apartments are set to take applications in the summer of 2020. The structure includes 74 housing units spanning from one- to three-bedrooms. It will also feature 5,000 square feet of commercial retail space that will be filled by restaurants, cafés, small clinics, and other businesses. It will be in walking distance of grocery stores, shops, services, and transit.
Applicants must make less than 60 percent of the city’s median income. In the Los Angeles metro area, the median income was $69,300 as of last year according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HCHC Executive Director Sarah Letts said the 1-to-2 percent yearly increase in rent would make it easier for low-income families to have confidence in their stability.
The HCHC develops affordable units in low-income communities. However, it is running into the same problem that has plagued housing development in L.A. for years.
“In L.A. it’s hard to build affordable housing,” said Victoria Senna, director of housing development for the HCHC. “There’s not a lot of land. If you find an empty lot in L.A. you ask what’s wrong with it.”
The project is an attempt to create affordable housing being hampered by the cost of land and development. Letts said it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct each unit.
“It is expensive, I’ll acknowledge that, but it’s a really important investment in a place like Los Angeles where we just don’t have enough housing,” she said.
Senna said it was challenging to balance the price tag of affordable housing with the large costs associated with creating a good structure. For example, Senna said the land itself cost over $1 million to own.
Letts said HCHC was emphasizing long-term structural durability.
“For 55 years we’re obligated to keep the rents affordable, so we have to build buildings that are going to last and perform well,” Letts said.
Oscar Zarate, a community organizer at the nonprofit Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), said gentrification creates a competitive cycle of raising rents, pricing low-income tenants out of their homes. The nonprofit advocates for tenants’ rights.
“It takes away rent-controlled units and incentivizes drastic rent change,” Zarate said. “If one rent goes up to like $1,500, that ups the median. And then everybody else tries to compete with that, tries to get to that level to make greater profits.”
This changes the cultural dynamic of entire neighborhoods. For example, Zarate said the tenants on the 3900 block of Flower Drive near USC are being evicted as a hotel and student housing project springs up.
“Some of them have been living there for 50 to 60 years and to lose that cultural value, community value, just for a couple of investment groups to make market value money, is, in my mind, a real injustice,” Zarate said. “It’s a real slap in the face to community members who made that place what it is today.”
Aside from providing affordable rents, the project also carries cultural significance.
The development was created in honor of Florence Mills, an African-American cabaret singer, dancer, and comedian in the 1920s. Mills frequently performed at a theater that stood on the construction site when she traveled to Los Angeles from Harlem.
This isn’t the first time the housing corporation has honored a prominent African-American artist with local ties. Across the street, the Paul R. Williams Apartments are named after the South L.A. architect who designed the building.
“We’re honoring the legacies of two really impressive artists,” she said. “So we’re really hoping this will be a vibrant hub of life, arts, and people.”