Plan to Build ‘Affordable’ Housing on City-Owned Parking Lots Gains Steam

December 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Parking spots are a valuable commodity in the City of Los Angeles.

The threat of losing even a few parking spaces can lead to panic in densely populated neighborhoods where places to park a vehicle are in short supply. It’s an issue for businesses too, since many rely on publicly owned parking lots for their customers, not having parking lots of their own.

In the City of Los Angeles, elected officials have been actively identifying “under-utilized” city-owned properties – including parking lots – as potential sites for new affordable housing developments. It’s part of a plan to shore up the city’s critical housing shortage and to keep more people from falling in to homelessness.

Last week, the City Council  approved a plan to charge developers a new fee to build in the city. Council members say revenue from the new “linkage” fee will be used to build more housing units for low- to middle-income families.

As city officials, housing advocates, developers and the business community debated the viability and impact the fee would have on development, local council offices and city planners were busy in the background cataloguing city-owned properties with the expressed purpose of adding to the city’s affordable housing stock.

City-owned parking lot on Avenue 24 near the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center is one of 5 lots in Lincoln Heights the city is vetting as potential sites to build affordable housing. (Photo by B. Preciado)

City-owned parking lot on Avenue 24 near the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center is one of 5 lots in Lincoln Heights the city is vetting as potential sites to build affordable housing. (Photo by B. Preciado)

They are also looking for properties where housing for the homeless can be built.

In Council Districts 1 and 14, some of the sites being vetted are vacant lots; others are public parking lots.

Over the last two weeks the City Council has taken steps to formalize the public review process, approving motions by Councilmen Gil Cedillo (CD-1) and Jose Huizar (CD-14) for city-owned properties in Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, near downtown L.A., in the Westlake area adjacent to MacArthur Park and in Lincoln Heights.

Requests for Proposals for teams to lead the public review, property acquisition agreements, approval of development teams, and the transfer of a property in Boyle Heights to a nonprofit that will use the site to house 18-24-year-old homeless college students are some of the measures that have been approved.

Huizar says he’s “thrilled” to be moving forward with “projects to better assist our homeless youth in Boyle Heights and provide much-needed affordable housing in the district.” He was referring to the transfer of a “triangle” shaped property on Pleasant Avenue in Boyle Heights to nonprofit Jovenes, Inc.

According to Huizar, city-owned properties offer “unique opportunities to develop land for homeless and affordable housing more quickly without the cost of land acquisition.”

Two public parking lots in Boyle Heights – on 318 N. Breed St. and 249 N. Chicago St. – have been identified as potential affordable housing sites. A vacant lot at the intersection of Genevieve Avenue and Monte Bonito Drive in Eagle Rock is also being looked at.

Cedillo also sees developing city-owned properties as a plus. He said: “The solution to combat the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles is to continue building housing as fast as possible, particularly affordable housing.”

Because parking is such a premium in the city, the possibility of loosing any spaces can be controversial and has been known to stop or at least delay some developments. Plans build housing on public parking lots near the Metro Gold Line Station in Highland Park drew loud criticism from local residents and businesses not only concerned about the added density and traffic, but also access to city-owned parking lots.

City planners and the development team for the project said one of the larger lots, off Avenue 58 between the Gold Line Station on Marmion Way and Figueroa Street, was under-utilized and often nearly empty. Developers, Cedillo, and his predecessor, former Councilman Ed Reyes, worked hard to convince stakeholders that the new developments would be required to include public parking provisions.

As for the parking lots under review in Boyle Heights, Huizar assures that any public parking taken for housing developments will be replaced. Where, or in what manner, will not be clear until when and if a development design is approved.

In Lincoln Heights, Cedillo’s office has targeted five city-owned parking lots for review. All five are near the neighborhood’s central commercial district along North Broadway: located behind or across from businesses such as CVS, the 99 Cents Only Store, WSS Shoes, and the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center, a community clinic whose patients are mostly low-income. The public parking lot off Avenue 24 provides parking for many of the clinic’s patients and on most days is filled to capacity.

While a development team has been selected to build affordable housing on city-owned properties near MacArthur Park in Westlake, (619, 623, 627 and 629 Westlake Avenue), the Lincoln Heights locations are still in the very early review stage, Fredy Cejas, Cedillo’s communication director  told EGP in an email.

He said a motion passed earlier this month by the City Council “only authorizes the City to enter into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement with a selected team to begin a process of planning to identify alternative development schemes.

“The purpo

Housing could one day replace this parking lot near the 99 Cents Only store in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by B. Preciado)

Housing could one day replace this parking lot near the 99 Cents Only store in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by B. Preciado)

se of the Motion is to start the conversation with the community about proposed housing on City parking lots,” Cejas said.

While “no actual decision” on whether to build has been made, Cejas emphasized a decision has been made to explore how the lots can be developed with housing and what type of project may be feasible.

The news caught some Lincoln Heights businesses by surprise. Arroyo Vista’s Irene Holguin said they could not comment because they did not know anything about the proposal, which came to public light in a recent Facebook posting and Cedillo’s newsletter.

Lincoln Heights Business Improvement District President and property owner Steve Kasten said he too was unaware of the plans, but that as a businessperson his first reaction is you cannot take “all of the parking.”

“But if there is a way to create housing without eliminating parking for local businesses, I am for that,” he said, adding he wants to learn more. If new housing is built, Kasten said he hopes tenants will have incomes high enough to allow them to support local businesses.

It’s very important for the community to have input throughout the development process, Kasten told EGP.

In his email, Cejas said the city council and mayor recognize that Angelenos are facing a severe housing crisis. Rents are skyrocketing and building has not kept up with population growth. Cejas said a key strategy to deal with the issue “is to consider utilizing the unused air-space above City-owned parking lots.”

In some neighborhoods, that has meant building multi-story complexes with underground or roof top parking.

During Cedillo’s 2016 reelection campaign, challengers accused the councilman of having a secret plan to build shelters for the homeless on parking lot sites in Lincoln Heights. The councilman denied the charge, and Cejas this week emphasized that the sites under review “are not all for homeless housing.”

“The community will have a voice and be involved in the planning for the reuse of these lots as specified in the Motion,” Cejas said, adding that no parking would be lost because the city would require parking spaces to be replaced on a one-to-one basis.

According to Cejas, Cedillo will require development team selected to engage in a robust community participation process to solicit input from the district’s diverse stakeholders.

That input, Cejas said, will be used to “define the parameters of a potential project – including but not limited to what type of housing, the number of units, architectural design, parking requirements and other related city planning and environmental matters.”

Megan G. Razzetti contributed to this story.


City Gives Nonprofit Property to Shelter Homeless Students

November 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Jovenes Inc., a nonprofit that serves homeless youth, will build units designed to serve homeless students engaged in post-secondary studies on a city-owned property on East Fourth Street in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar has announced.

The site is one of several city-owned property in the neighborhood east of downtown the city is looking to develop as affordable housing.

“Jovenes, Inc. is one of our premiere homeless service partners in Boyle Heights serving one of the most vulnerable populations imaginable – our youth,” Huizar said.

“It is imperative that the city assist them to give kids hope and a future that they might not have otherwise,” he said. “Education is one of this country’s great equalizers, and this Fourth Street location and the College Success Initiative is going to be a place of inspiration — where, with the excellent support services that Jovenes Inc. and its partners provide, youth have the opportunity to go to college, have a place to call home, and succeed.”

Huizar’s office said that due to partnerships with Genesis LA, a community development financing institution, and Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, the project will utilize private capital and donations and move forward faster and cheaper compared to
traditional developments. The property has sat vacant for years.

“We must create stable housing opportunities that gives homeless students and youth an opportunity to create a new vision for themselves and leave homelessness behind,” said Jovenes’ executive director, Andrea Marchetti.

Huizar also said he wants to see Jovenes expand its services near its main site on 1304 E. Pleasant Ave. in Boyle Heights and has introduced a council motion directing city staff to use the so-called Aliso Triangle property nearby to help the organization grow its campus.

The city owns the Aliso site, which is surrounded by Jovenes’ headquarters and properties owned by the nonprofit, and Huizar said he wants Jovenes to secure it so it can expand its services.

Deliciosos Tacos Para Ayudar a Jóvenes Sin Hogar

August 21, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

Bajo un sol abrazador de verano, cientos de personas se reunieron para saborear unos deliciosos tacos y bebidas refrescantes durante el 4to Festival Anual de Tacos en La Plaza del Mariachi en Boyle Heights. El evento fue auspiciado por la organización no lucrativa Jóvenes Inc., la cual se dedica a ayudar a jóvenes sin hogar.

Las líneas eran largas, mientras la gente esperaba para probar las calientitas—y en algunos puestos recién hechas—tortillas que cubrían deliciosas carnes, pollo, camarón y vegetales en forma de tacos, quesadillas, tostadas y burritos ofrecidas por restaurantes locales.

Restaurantes locales de Boyle Heights participaron en el 4to Festival Anual de Tacos para recaudar fondos para la organización Jóvenes Inc. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Restaurantes locales de Boyle Heights participaron en el 4to Festival Anual de Tacos para recaudar fondos para la organización Jóvenes Inc. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

David A. Torres estaba entre los muchos voluntarios dispuestos a contestar preguntas de los asistentes y/o dirigirlos a los lugares adecuados. El joven de 21 años aprecia eventos como el festival de tacos, debido a que la organización estuvo ahí cuando él más necesitaba ayuda, según cuenta a EGP.

La organización con más de dos décadas de existencia provee servicios a los jóvenes desamparados y familias en situación de riesgo de separación en el Este de Los Ángeles y Boyle Heights, ofreciendo albergues de emergencia, casas de transición y una variedad de servicios de apoyo.

Torres dijo que él se convirtió en desamparado cuando tenía 12 años. Su madre le ayudó a inscribirse a la escuela pero “nunca le prestó atención”  debido a sus propios problemas que lidiaba.

Pasó años durmiendo en sillones y bañándose en casas de amigos, pero nunca dejó de asistir a la escuela. Cuando cumplió 18 años—legalmente un adulto—decidió compartir su situación de desamparado con personal de su escuela.

“Le dije a mi maestro y él me dijo que hablara con una trabajadora social, quien tenía una lista de albergues” donde talvez podría vivir, dijo Torres.

Read this article in English: Tasty Tacos Support Homeless Youth

Jóvenes Inc. se encontraba en la lista, y de acuerdo a Torres, él recibió un lugar donde vivir mientras terminaba la preparatoria, ayuda de consejería y pudo obtener una tarjeta de guardia de seguridad. Poco después él pudo mudarse a los apartamentos Progress Place, un complejo habitacional para jóvenes como Torres, que pueden pagar renta pero que aun necesitan servicios de apoyo.

“Tengo mi apartamento, trabajo como guardia y he tomado pasantitas durante los tres años que he estado con Jóvenes”, dice orgulloso Torres.

Ahora, quiere compartir su experiencia y ayudar a otros que tal vez se encuentren en la misma situación que él, antes de que Jóvenes le abriera las puertas.

“Quiero informar a los jóvenes desamparados”, dijo Torres.

De acuerdo al reporte de Jóvenes, “Los Bordes—Entendiendo a la Juventud Desamparada en Edades de Transición (18-25) en el Interior de la Ciudad de Los Ángeles” fundada por el California Endowment, un estimado de entre 5,000 a 10,000 jóvenes “experimentan falta de hogar en cualquier noche” en Los Ángeles.

El Director de Desarrollo de Jóvenes Inc. Eric Hubbard le dijo a EGP que la organización ayuda a los jóvenes, edades entre los 18 a 25 años, de mayoría hispanos y que viven en el Este de Los Ángeles y Boyle Heights. “Nosotros les proveemos su albergue inicial, les ayudamos a conseguir trabajo, a desarrollar liderazgo y les proveemos servicios en casos individuales,” dijo Hubbard.

En Boyle Heights y ELA, hay un estimado de 1,000 jóvenes menores de 18 años sin hogar que asisten a escuelas del Distrito Unificado de Los Ángeles, de acuerdo a Hubbard.

Jóvenes Inc. costea sus programas mediante becas y donaciones de varias fundaciones, contratos con la ciudad y eventos de recaudación de fondos como el Festival de Tacos, el cual ha tenido el apoyo de dueños de negocios como la señora Lupe Barajas de Yeya’s Restaurant.

El Director Executivo de Jovenes Inc. Andrea Marchetti da la bienvenida a los participantes. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

El Director Executivo de Jovenes Inc. Andrea Marchetti da la bienvenida a los participantes. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

El puesto de Yeya’s fue uno con las líneas más rápidas y ofreció tacos fritos de camarones y papas.

“Donamos alrededor de 750 platos de tacos”, Barajas le dijo a EGP, explicando que aunque sus ganancias fueron mínimas para el restaurante, ella se sentía orgullosa de “ayudar a jóvenes a mantenerlos fuera de las calles”.

Nelson Ledesma es uno de los muchos jóvenes recibiendo estos servicios de Jóvenes Inc. Él dice que la ayuda fue como “ver la luz al final del túnel”.

Ledesma nació en EE.UU., pero sus padres regresaron a México cuando él era muy pequeño. Años después, huyendo de la violencia doméstica, su madre con cuatro hijos regresó a este país. En ese tiempo Ledesma tenía siete años.

La familia no tenía un lugar donde vivir y cuando regresaron a Los Ángeles su vida era un constante “rodar de casa en casa”, dijo Ledesma. A la edad de 18 años él se inscribió en Job Corps para completar una carrera corta de dos años, sin embargo, con una vida inestable no pudo terminar su carrera a tiempo.

“Le mentí a mi familia acerca de la escuela”, dijo Ledesma. “No quería regresar a casa y tener los mismos problemas”, agregó. Así que decidió vivir en las calles, dormir en carros y conseguir trabajos aquí y alla donde se pudiera.

Poco después fue referido a Jóvenes, donde dice que recibió ayuda desde el primer día.

Han pasado seis meses desde que llegó ahí y dice que ahora tiene un trabajo estable como mesero, ha conseguido su licencia de conducir y vive en una casa de transición patrocinada por Jóvenes. Actualmente esta ahorrando dinero para poder pagar renta en un apartamento propio.

“Jóvenes es una bendición, es excelente, te demuestran lo mucho que les importas”, dijo.

Las razones para que los jóvenes queden desamparados varían. Algunos han sido transferidos de casa de crianzas, otros son indocumentados y hay quienes tratan de huir de las pandillas.

Hay casos donde las familias rechazan a algunos chichos por su preferencia sexual.

Durante el Festival del Taco, las largas líneas fueron muestra de que este estaba siendo un evento exitoso.

Colombiana de nacimiento, pero mexicana “de corazón”, Laura González dijo que ella y sus amigos estaban disfrutando de la música mexicana, el arte y la cultura en exhibición en la Plaza del Mariachi. Ella dijo que era su primera vez asistiendo al festival y planea regresar, pero espera que hayan más vendedores y líneas más pequeñas el próximo año.

Los participantes también pudieron saborear las deliciosas aguas frescas, la sección de cerveza y tequila para los amantes del alcohol estuvo en un área reservada y hasta hubo quien participó en las clases de salsa por parte del grupo de baile Listen.Feel.Dance Collective.

“El año pasado recaudamos $25,000 y todo va para el apoyo de albergues y casos individuales”, Hubbard le dijo a EGP, agregando que esperan superar esa cifra este año.

La organización ayuda alrededor de 120 jóvenes anualmente mediante albergues, apartamentos y trabajos.


Twitter @jackieguzman

Tasty Tacos Help Support Eastside Homeless Youth

August 21, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

Scorching summer heat was no match for the delicious tacos and tasty drinks served up Saturday at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, where hundreds of people took part in the 4th Annual Taco Festival fundraiser benefitting Jovenes Inc., a non-profit organization that helps homeless youth.

The lines were very long at times at the “summer’s biggest (eastside) bash” as people waited their turn to get their hands on warm—and at some booths recently handmade—tortillas packed with the tastiest meat, chicken, shrimp and vegetables in the form of tacos, quesadillas, tostadas and burritos being prepared by a variety of local restaurants.

Twenty-one-year-old David A. Torres was among the dozens of volunteers gladly answering questions and directing people where to get what they were looking for. Torres appreciates the importance of events like the Taco Festival, explaining to EGP that Jovenes was there for him when he needed it the most.

Read this article in Spanish: Deliciosos Tacos Para Ayudar a Jóvenes Sin Hogar

The more than two-decade-old Jovenes organization provides services to homeless youth and at-risk families in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, including emergency shelter and transitional housing and a variety of other supportive services.

Torres said he became homeless when he was just 12 years old. He said his mother helped him enroll in school but “never really paid attention” to him as she struggled to deal with her own issues.

He says he spent years sleeping on couches and taking showers at friends’ homes, but never stopped going to school. However, it wasn’t until he turned 18, legally an adult, that he decided to share his homeless situation with staff at the school.

People enjoyed authentic Mexican food at the 4th Annual Taco Festival in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

People enjoyed authentic Mexican food at the 4th Annual Taco Festival in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“I told my teacher and he told me to talk to a social worker, who said she had a list of shelters” where I might be able to live, Torres said.

Jovenes Inc. was on that list, and according to Torres, he was given a place to live while finishing high school, counseling and help getting a job as a security guard. Later he moved to Progress Place apartments, Jovenes’ housing complex for one time homeless youth, like Torres, who are able to pay rent but might still need some support services.

“I got my apartment, I work in security and I have been taking internships throughout the three years that I have been with Jovenes,” says Torres proudly.

He now wants to share his experience and help others who might be in the same situation he was before Jovenes opened their doors to him.

“I want to bring awareness about homeless youth,” Torres added.

According to Jovenes’ policy report, “The Fringes – Understanding Homeless Transition Age Youth (ages 18-25) in Inner City Los Angeles,” funded by the California Endowment, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 youth “experience homelessness on any given night” in Los Angeles.

Jovenes Development Director Eric Hubbard told EGP that the nonprofit serves homeless young people between the ages of 18 and 25, the majority are Latino and live in East Los Angeles or Boyle Heights.  “We provide their initial shelter, help them get jobs, develop leaderships and services through individual cases,” Hubbard said.

In Boyle Heights and East LA, an estimated 1,000 homeless kids under the age of 18 attend Los Angeles Unified schools, according to Hubbard.


During the Taco Festival people also enjoyed music, art and entertainment. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Jovenes funds its programs through grants and donations from numerous foundations, city contracts and fundraisers like Saturday’s Taco Festival, which had the support of Boyle Heights businesses like Yeya’s restaurant owned by Lupe Barajas.

Yeya’s booth had one with the fastest moving lines and offered fried shrimp and potato tacos. “We donated about 750 plates of tacos,” Barajas told EGP, explaining that even though her earnings from the restaurant were minimal, she was proud “to be able to help youth stay off the streets.”

Nelson Ledesma is one of the many young men receiving services from Jovenes. He says the help was like “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ledesma was born in the U.S., but his parents moved the family to Mexico when he was very young. Fleeing domestic violence, his mother returned to the U.S. a few years later, her four children in tow. Ledesma was seven at the time.

The family had no place to live when they returned to Los Angeles and was constantly “bouncing from home to home,” Ledesma said. At age 18 he enrolled in Job Corps, but told EGP his unstable home life forced him to quit before completing the two-year training program.

“I lied to my family about school,” Ledesma said. “I just didn’t want to go back home and have the same struggle,” choosing to instead live on the street, sleep in cars and pick up work here and there when he could.

Then he was referred to Jovenes, where he says he received help from day one.

It’s been six months since that first day and Ledesma now has steady work as a waiter, has obtained a driver’s license and is living in Jovenes’ sponsored transitional housing. He says he is saving money to rent his own apartment.

“Jovenes is a blessing, it’s awesome, it shows you how much they care,” he said.

The reasons for youth homelessness are many. Some of the at-risk and homeless youth serviced by Jovenes have transitioned out of foster care, others are undocumented and some are escaping gangs. In some cases, the youth’s family has rejected him or her because they identify as LGBTQ.

If the long lines are any indication, the Taco Festival appears to have been a great success.

Of Colombian heritage but Mexican “at heart,” Laura Gonzalez said she and her friends were really enjoying the Mexican music, arts and culture on display at Mariachi Plaza. She said it was her first time attending the Taco Festival and plans to attend again, but hopes there will be more vendors and shorter lines the next time around.

In addition to tacos, there were also vendors serving up agua fresca (fresh fruit drinks) and a section for beer and tequila lovers.

“Last year we made $25,000 and everything goes to support shelter and individual cases,” Hubbard told EGP, adding they are hoping to raise more money this year.

The organization helps about 120 youth every year through multiple, shelters, housing and jobs.


Twitter @jackieguzman

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