Greta Cobar

Affordable Housing: Basic Human Right

By Greta Cobar

Shelter is a big deal – according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is just as important as food. With the aim of preventing friends, family and neighbors from getting kicked out of the neighborhood and/or being homeless, Venice Community Housing (VCH) was formed in 1988. It has since provided low-income, affordable housing to thousands of individuals and families.

I had the wonderful opportunity of riding around town with Steve Clare, co-founder and Executive Director of VCH, to check out and learn about the 14 building the VCH currently owns and manages in Venice and Mar Vista. Within the last year it has acquired a 15th property, which is in development for a future housing project.

First stop was Tabor Courts, which is a piece of art just as much as it is an apartment building. With noted Venice artists Bill Attaway’s and Noel Osheroff’s mosaic work throughout, the building resonates pleasant visual abundance as opposed to the bare look usually associated with public, affordable housing.

Steve Clare: We were able to build this 25-unit building on three lots with the help of then-councilperson Ruth Galanter. When Extra Space Storage asked for a parking variance, Galanter told them: ‘I’ll give you the variance if you donate two lots for affordable housing.’ We purchased the adjacent third lot and opened the one, two, three and four bedroom apartments for family housing in 1996.

 History was made right here at Tabor Courts with the first job training program to take place on a city-funded affordable housing construction site. In 1995, after a nine month gang war between the Venice Shoreline Crips and the Venice 13 that yielded 17 killings and 55 injuries, we hired 5 youths from each gang and offered them the opportunity to participate in a job training program and get paid at the same time. 

That’s how Venice YouthBuild started, and it has continued since as a violence prevention and intervention program providing construction training, education and leadership development services to youths ages 18 to 24. In 2012, 23 students graduated from Cycle 10 of Venice YouthBuild after spending a combined 15,000 hours working on the construction of 164 units of affordable housing and participating in weekly community service projects.

While the Tabor Courts building was under construction Venice ceramic artists Bill Attaway and Noel Osheroff contacted VCH to get involved. Bill wanted to work with the youth, and Noel wanted to create a ceramics art program for kids who were going to move into the building when it was completed.

Bill and the youth created the ceramic tile entry floor, and Bill created and installed the totem at the front entrance.

Noel contacted the parents of families selected for tenancy and offered to create a ceramic arts program on site during construction. About fourteen kids joined the program, which included learning to work with clay and learning about marine life through field trips and meetings with local marine biologist Tim Rudnick. The sea animals that the kids created were installed into a wall mural in the first floor hallway.

These positive experiences motivated VCH to start Clayworks, a ceramic tile making and installation program for at risk youth which operated successfully for about 8 years. Several other buildings owned by VCH are also beautifully decorated with ceramic tiles made by Clayworks participants.

The building was named Tabor Courts after the Tabor family, and several members of the Tabor family attended the grand opening of the building in 1996. Erving Tabor was Abbot Kinney’s driver, and when Kinney died, he willed his home to Erving. At that time the house was located where the new new post office now stands, and restrictive covenants prohibited sale of the property to an African American. Tabor moved the house to 6th and San Juan, where no restrictive covenants existed. It remained in the Tabor family until 2003, when it was sold to a private party.

Steve Clare: Both federal and local government institutions, as well as many foundations, are now focusing on Housing First – meaning take people off the street and put them into permanent housing. As a result, there has been a reduced emphasis and funding for shelters and transitional housing. Because of sequestration these programs were cut by eight percent and Section 8 housing was cut as well. Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there was a 16 percent increase in homelessness in Los Angeles from 2011 to 2013. Currently there are 58,000 unhoused individuals in L.A. County, with half of those in the city of L.A. Although United Way and its Home for Good campaign aim to eliminate veteran homelessness and chronic homelessness by 2016, we’re not going to solve homelessness anytime soon unless we have more resources.

 Unhoused individuals are big consumers of medical and law enforcement services. By housing them, we decrease their societal cost.

“The number one medical intervention for the unhoused is housing,” stated Elizabeth Benson, Executive Director of the Venice Family Clinic.

In spite of the shameful recent cuts in all government social programs, VCH has managed to thrive. In 2012 alone it provided 513 people with a place to call home, 148 of which were children and another 152 of which were formerly unhoused.

Operating on an annual budget of $3 million with 32 regular full time employees, VCH gets about half of its budget from rent fees they collect in their buildings, and the other half from government and foundation grants, and individual contributions.

VCH owns and rents out 195 units, 57 of which are reserved for chronic homeless individuals. Chronic homelessness is defined as having been on the street for more than one year and having a disability; or as having had four episodes of homelessness within the last three years and having a disability. The rent subsidies for these 57 units come from Shelter Plus Care, and the individuals who are placed in these units do not have to be on a waiting list, but are recruited off the street with the help of other organizations, such as St. Joseph’s. Supportive services are provided to these tenants as well. VCH has had tremendous success retaining these individuals in housing and preventing them from being on the street again.

Another eight units are reserved as a Transitional Living Center for women with children. The tenants and their children can occupy these units for up to two years, but they tend to move out after an average of nine months, which is consistent with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s goal of getting the women employed and into permanent housing as soon as possible.

Of the remaining 130 units, 14 of them are reserved for unhoused individuals. The rest 116 units are available to low-income individuals and families. These units have long waiting lists and low tenant turn-over. The waiting list usually opens once a year, and this year the VCH will be opening its waiting list from November 15 to 22 to receive applications for 2, 3, and 4 bedroom units only for low-income households of no fewer than 3 or more than 9 people. If you meet these qualifications, you should go to the VCH office located at 720 Rose Ave. on November 15 or as soon as possible afterwards to pick up an application, which must be returned no later than November 22. Although funding does not allow discrimination based on boundaries, VCH tries to let Venetians know when the waiting list opens up.

In 2012 a total of 430 children and youth participated in VCH’s after school programs, which include Study Lounge, Westside Science Club and Teen Court at Venice High School. In addition, VCH provided help with income tax, voter education and transportation to its residents.

Last year VCH sponsored a voluntary storage program to assist homeless people who wanted to participate in the Winter Shelter Program but had too much personal property to take with them on the bus. The program was staffed almost entirely by volunteers, and they hope to provide that same service again this year.

A vital part of VCH’s operation are community volunteers. During the month of November volunteers are needed on the 15th for the Donation Center and on the 27th for the Thanksgiving Lunch. During the month of December, Holiday Gift Wrapping volunteers are needed from the 9th to the 13th.  Toy and gift card donations for one or more of the 225 children living in VCH buildings and participating in After School programs are much appreciated during this holiday season. Donation Center volunteers are also needed on December 20th. Ongoing volunteer opportunities include computer tutors, high school tutors, teacher aides, landscaping and teaching life skills classes.  To sign up or learn more, contact Volunteer Coordinator Barbara Milliken at 310-399-4100 x134 or bmilliken@vchcorp.org.

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Categories: Greta Cobar, Housing

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