'We are going to rid this community of an eyesore that has plagued its spirit and reputation.'
--Ruth Galanter, city councilwoman
For years, Veniore Robinson, his wife, Ruth, and their two children have been the only residents in a building considered by many, in the crime-ridden Crenshaw apartment area known as "the Jungle," to be an example of governmental neglect and indifference.
The 24-unit building on Gibraltar Avenue is owned by the Los Angeles Housing Authority. It has been all but vacant for 15 years, a target for graffiti, a haven for derelicts and other undesirables.
Robinson, 38, has been the building's caretaker for a dozen years.
Chase Away Vagrants
There have been times, he said, when he has had to get up in the middle of the night to tell people to stop stripping cars on the apartment grounds. He said he has had to chase away vagrants and toughs bent on writing graffiti or vandalizing the empty apartments. And there are those nights when the sounds of gunfire seem unending.
"My wife and I sit down away from the windows and wonder whether anyone has been hit," he said. "That's when we just stay inside, stay behind the walls because the vibes are just not right."
Robinson may soon have neighbors and help in his struggle against crime. The Housing Authority announced recently that it had received a $400,000 grant from the city's Community Development Department to remodel the Gibraltar building.
City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who worked to secure the grant, said that the failure of the city to rehabilitate the building led many to believe that the community had been abandoned by government agencies.
"We are going to rid this community of an eyesore that has plagued its spirit and reputation," she said.
For Galanter, the $400,000 grant was the fulfillment of a promise she made last year during her campaign to unseat City Councilwoman Pat Russell. Galanter criticized her opponent during the campaign for failing to do more to remodel the building, and she promised to see that the job was done.
The housing authority acquired the property six years ago from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The housing authority ran out of federal funds to rehabilitate the building, and the city was forced to find other money, said Faustin Gonzales, the director of modernization for the Housing Authority.
Under the city-funded plan, "at least half of the remodeled apartments will be rented at market rate; the remainder will be subsidized (for low-income tenants)," he said.
Community leaders were pleased by the announcement, but the spokesman for a landlord group said he would prefer to see the building in private hands when it is completed.
"We want them to sell the buildings because we are not sure they will do what is necessary to screen tenants so that the community does not suffer (from troublemakers)," said Eric Crumpton, the president of the Apartment Improvement Assn., an organization made up of landlords from the area. Crumpton and other community leaders have been fighting to improve the image of the neighborhood so that it can once again be a safe and desirable place to live. Recently, the Los Angeles Police Department agreed to increase protection in the area by adding a substation at Gilliam Park for officers on foot patrols.
Safety concerns Robinson most. There are times, he said, when he feels trapped by the fear that some harm will come to him or his family.
But sometimes fear of crime has a way of uniting people, Robinson said.
"People do look out for each other," he added. "This area seems safer than some others in the city . . . where they have a lot of drive-by shootings."
Eventually, Robinson, who is a drummer, said he would like to be like the "All-American family and own a house with a back yard, but I have to wait until my time comes. Right now we are surviving. Keeping our heads above water comes first."
When the building is remodeled, he said, he would like to stay on as the manager. "Hopefully, we will have good neighbors, children for my children to play with," he said.
Not far from Robinson's apartment, young men hawk drugs openly on the street. Once his 6-year-old daughter observed police arresting some men and asked him what was going on.
"I believe in being honest, so I told her about drugs," Robinson said. "I told her they were selling drugs and that drugs were bad. I told her that cocaine is something bad.