COMPTON — Betty Shaheed remembers the day her husband suggested they look at a new subdivision taking shape in this city.
She was feeling particularly low. She and her husband, Hakeem, a postal worker, longed to flee the increasingly mean streets of central Los Angeles. But they had just lost a chance to buy their first house in a nicer neighborhood after a bank appraiser decided that the house was overpriced.
"When he said Compton, I said, 'Oh, no,"' she recalled.
Now, about two years later, Betty Shaheed is settled in a 4-bedroom tract house in the heart of Compton, proudly showing off the fuchsia blooming at her front door, the Levelor blinds in the kitchen and the new Encyclopaedia Britannica lining her bookcase.
"This house is more peace than I've ever known," she said.
The Shaheeds are among 300 families who have ignored Compton's reputation for crime and drug trafficking, and bought houses in Sunny Cove, a centrally located subdivision that offers new houses at bargain prices.
A 4-bedroom, 3-bath home in Sunny Cove costs $114,000. The median-priced Southern California home sells for $170,457.
"Come here, let me show you something," Betty Shaheed said, rushing to the sliding-glass door. "I've got tomato trees and that's a grape vine right there. And I'm going to put some more in and I've got to get the grass growing back here."
Her back yard, she said, would be as filled with flowers as the front if she were home every day. But she works part time now.
"When I moved out here I didn't work," she said. "But now, I want so many pretty things, it makes you work."
Sunny Cove, which replaced one of the worst slums in the county, was built by a private developer with the aid of state housing finance bonds and a city loan. It is populated largely by black and Latino families, many headed by police officers, firefighters and school teachers. "The people out here," Betty Shaheed said, "are middle-class people. They're trying to have something, you know . . . we're all trying, just to have something and live in peace."
Lionel LeDuff Jr., another original Sunny Cove buyer said, "The . . . people we have living in Sunny Cove are working people with very good jobs. We have a lot of policemen, firemen, attorneys and professional people.
"When you talk about the city of Compton, this is the only area that has a concentration of professional people . . . We've got white neighbors, Filipinos, Hispanics and, of course, blacks. We have a pretty good mixed neighborhood."
LeDuff directs McDonnell Douglas' equal employment opportunity programs in El Segundo. His wife, Donna, is a counselor at Long Beach City College. They have two daughters, ages 6 and 3.
They were negotiating for a house in Carson three years ago when her father told them to look at the new development he found in Compton. The Carson house had three bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths and cost $165,000. In Sunny Cove, they bought a 4-bedroom, 3-bath house for $89,000.
The couple came close at one point to buying in Ontario. "What I did was take my wife out there," he said. "We got caught in traffic coming back and I cured her of wanting to live out there." The Shaheeds considered buying as far away as Walnut, but also were discouraged by the lengthy commute and housing prices. Their home, the same model as the LeDuff's, cost $91,500 when they bought it 2 1/2 years ago.
Today, the same model is selling for $114,000. But the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is lending up to $101,250, which would allow purchases in Sunny Cove with relatively small down payments.
Compton also is one of two local governments in Southern California to take advantage of a federal program that gives tax credits to new home buyers in redevelopment areas.
Willie Anderson, 26, a self-employed plumber, and his wife, Tammy, 25, an employee of Southern California Gas Co., rented in Inglewood before they discovered Sunny Cove.
He said he might have been able to buy a 2-bedroom, 1-bath house in Inglewood for $100,000. "And when we came and looked at these for $96,000 . . . it was like too good to be true," he said.
Concerned About Crime
The young couple bought a 4-bedroom model on Grape Avenue last year, with about $11,000 for a down payment and closing costs.
Anderson concedes that he was concerned about the city's reputation for high crime rates. (There have been 39 murders in Compton so far this year) "But . . . once you drive in here, you're like not even in Compton any more," he said.
As with many housing tracts, there is a wall around Sunny Cove. There are only two entrances.
Near the two entries, there are signs that some of the initial buyers were wary of the city's high crime rate. Protective grills covers windows on a few of the houses. As the streets wind deeper into the rows of 2-story, stucco homes off Wilmington Avenue, the grills that are common on every other Compton street disappear.