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Agency Builds Apartments for Low Earners

February 14, 1988|LEON WHITESON | Leon Whiteson is a Los Angeles-based design writer. and

The Los Angeles Family Housing Corp., a private nonprofit agency that develops affordable housing for homeless and low-income families, has just completed its second project in South-Central Los Angeles.

Named Casa Central, the six-unit complex at 1100 E. 32nd St. is located in a mixed-use district where factories and warehouses jostle run-down clapboard bungalows south of the Santa Monica Freeway. For about $50 a square foot, architect Arnold Stalk, Family Housing's development director, has designed a pink-stucco group of apartments that share a family play space.

"Our aim is to give families not only a home they can afford to rent, but also the social support they need to survive as a unit in a difficult environment," Stalk said.

"Casa Central, like our earlier eight-unit development on East Adams Boulevard, provides day-care services, under the supervision of a trained social worker, for the kids of mothers who have to go out to work."

About 40 persons live in the East Adams apartments, while tenants for the new project have not yet been selected.

Mothers Get Pay

Professional staffing is backed up by the participation of the mothers, who are paid to help with the care of the children, he said.

Casa Central was financed by a $420,000-low-interest loan provided by the Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA established design guidelines, including minimum floor areas for the two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments. Stalk said rents will be between $300 and $400 a month.

Stalk finds sites for Family Housing projects by cruising the streets of South-Central and East Los Angeles. He then takes a proposal based on the lot he chooses to the CRA and private contributors, mainly within the building industry.

Stalk provides the architectural design and supervision for the project in collaboration with his architect wife, Michelle, operating out of a Woodland Hills-based practice named Designers Plus.

Transitional Housing

The Los Angeles Family Housing Corp. was founded in 1983 by Stalk and executive director Tanya Tull. Its aim is to provide both transitional and permanent housing for poor families with children.

"Support and self-help mechanisms in both the permanent housing and the 60-day transitional housing help tenant families strive for social and economic self-sufficiency," the agency's brochure states.

Projects under design or out to bid include four more permanent complexes in South-Central Los Angeles and North Hollywood, a 100-bed transitional shelter on Breed Street on the Eastside, and several shelters for runaway teen-agers and homeless women in various sections of the city. When completed, they will house about 500 persons.

Most are either financed directly by the CRA or by the development agency in combination with private sources generated by Family Housing's board of directors, headed by chairman Sydney Irmas, general counsel for Price Pfister Inc.

Solution by Students

"We started LAFHC to combine the professional expertise of concerned architects and experienced social activists," Stalk explained. A lecturer at the Southern California Institute of Architects in Santa Monica, Stalk has developed a studio on innovative low-income housing solutions with his students.

"This is an area where architects could contribute something special to the solution of an urgent social need."

Another initiative by architectural students to offer ideas for housing the homeless was provided by the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning in a January studio titled 'Short and Long Term Strategies for Low-Income Housing.'

Frightening Experience

Under the supervision of instructors Jackie Leavitt and Brenda Levin, 25 students built overnight shelters for transients out of materials they found around on the campus in the vicinity of Perloff Hall, where the school of architecture is located. Having built the shelters, the students were expected to spend the night in them, "to experience the vulnerability of sleeping on the street," Leavitt said.

The students, both men and women, found the experience challenging and frightening.

A group of women who clustered for mutual protection in a corner of the courtyard they named "Girls' Town" talked of their fears of sleeping outside in makeshift shelters made of cardboard walls, egg crate mattresses and garbage-bag roofs as "a truly awful experience. We felt utterly exposed to anyone who might want to bother us at any time."

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