How a new Expo Park housing complex is helping this formerly homeless veteran rebuild his life
A vacant lot in South Los Angeles that was turned into an affordable housing community is already helping some veterans and chronically homeless individuals get off the streets and rebuild their lives.
Located near Exposition Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, King 1101 Apartments is a four-story building community with 26 studio and one to three-bedroom apartments, 15 of which have been designated for chronically homeless individuals and large families with special needs, according to the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing. Another 10 are designated for homeless veterans.
One such veteran is 44-year-old Jorge Luis Ramirez, who used to live on Skid Row before moving into his one-bedroom studio apartment. He has been living at King 1101 Apartments for about two months.
“I like the building because it’s very quiet, clean, and fresh,” Ramirez said in an interview.
There are just over 40,000 homeless veterans as of 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs . Despite Los Angeles’ tightening housing market and increased cost of living, the VA’s National Homeless Program Office helped decrease veteran homelessness in Los Angeles by 18 percent in 2018 by placing over 2,100 veterans into permanent housing, according to the VA’s website.
Ramirez joined the military when he was 17, with hopes of being able to afford a college education. He served for three years, working as a combat engineer for the Persian Gulf War.
Ramirez said he was homeless for six years, after struggling with trauma and drug addiction.
“Straight out of the military I worked as a corrections officer, but my substance abuse caught up to me,” he said.
Ramirez found out about the new housing through the VA. He estimated there are around seven formerly-homeless veterans like him living there so far.
The housing project was developed by Clifford Beers Housing, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that works to reduce homelessness, according to the company website. Their main initiative is designing affordable housing projects like the King 1101 Apartments to “enhance the lives of individuals and families who have experienced mental illness and homelessness.”
The organization has completed or developed nearly 700 affordable homes throughout Southern California, with more than 450 in operation and about 220 being developed, according to the company’s website. King 1101, their most recent development, opened January 18.
The building includes a community garden, gated bike and vehicle parking, and sustainability initiatives such as a green roof and solar water heating. Tenants at the building can also access supportive services such as mental health care, financial literacy training, substance abuse treatment, and life skills workshops provided by The People Concern, an organization dedicated to tackling the challenges of chronic homelessness.
Rental rates at King 1101 are less than 30 to 50 percent of the area’s median income, according to the Clifford Beers Housing website. The building’s rents range from $435 to $1,079 per month — Ramirez, however, said he only pays $47. He receives funding from the VA to help pay for his housing
While he is not currently working, Ramirez said he receives a fixed income from General Relief, a program that gives aid to those who have medical conditions affecting their ability to work. He also works side gigs such as selling parking spaces and driving for Uber.
While Ramirez was living on Skid Row, he did his best to keep his homelessness a secret from everyone in his life. Now, he said he feels much more stable in his new home and is able to focus on rebuilding his life. “I’m starting from the foundations again, and I’m building myself back up.”
He is currently attending paralegal classes at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College with the goal of owning a small paralegal business to help other veterans with their documentation and paperwork.
Ramirez doesn’t plan on living at King 1101 forever. “I definitely want to use this as a stepping stone and learn from here,” he said. “But I want to grow from here like a plant. You gotta leave at the right moment.”
He hopes he will able to move within the next two years, and start a new path toward wherever life takes him next: “I’m still young, after all. I’m only 44.”