MONROVIA — An ambitious program that will offer residents home improvement grants and services such as free garbage collection will be implemented in southeast Monrovia this fall in an effort to make the area more attractive.
Mayor Bob Bartlett and Councilwoman Lara Blakely are about to begin interviewing candidates for an advisory committee that will guide the $8.5-million residential rehabilitation effort.
The City Council last month approved the five-year plan, dubbed the "Comprehensive Neighborhood Housing Services Program," to boost private development in the area bordered by Olive, Shamrock, Cherry and Ivy avenues.
Nine areas totaling about 15 acres within those boundaries have been targeted for special services, according to Steve Cervantes, Monrovia building-housing division manager.
The ultimate goal, he said, will be the creation of a nonprofit community organization to continue improvement of the neighborhood once the city pulls out.
City officials hope that the cleanup will attract investors to build houses or repair run-down properties.
"Few are willing to invest after they see the conditions in the neighborhood," Cervantes said. "A typical developer would like to find one or two run-down properties in a very nice neighborhood. Here, we have a lot of run-down properties."
Although some residents were skeptical about how workable the project will be, most welcomed the idea.
"Sounds good," said Mando Delamadrid, who wants to replace the peeling paint on his 70-year-old single-family home on California Avenue with stucco but who has been unable to save the $3,000 it would cost. The program would "make the neighborhood feel better, improve the value of our house," he said.
The plan will include traditional low-interest loans for home rehabilitation the city has offered eligible homeowners for 12 years. In addition, it will provide for tighter code enforcement, free dumpster service and grants of up to $5,000 for exterior improvements such as painting or landscaping.
The city also hopes to establish a program under which residents can borrow tools and get free labor.
The city plans to buy land for small residential developments. Although eminent domain can be used to obtain parcels for building low- and moderate-income housing in the area, the city does not intend to force anyone to sell.
"For the first time, we're trying a totally comprehensive approach," said Cervantes, who has been working on the plan for the last year. "It's not just bricks and mortar but economic development and job training. I'm looking forward to getting neighbors involved in this."
William Dillard, pastor of the 2nd Baptist Church on Shamrock Avenue, said most of the 700 families in his congregation would jump at the chance to increase the value of their properties.
"The key is to explain the opportunity to them," he said.
Leaders Will Be Recruited
Cervantes said community meetings will be held to recruit neighborhood leaders from each of the nine target areas to encourage resident participation and outline what is available. The city might require some contractors to recruit and train neighborhood youth for jobs such as painting or construction, Cervantes said. Such skills could perhaps be used to obtain jobs, he said.
Ozvie Wilson, pastor of the 20-member Antioch Church of Christ Holiness on the corner of Canyon Boulevard and Walnut Avenue, lauded the plan. "It's amazing to see so many unemployed black young people, and yet I know they're qualified to do jobs," he said. He has been putting off painting the church, dating from 1947, because he hasn't had the money.
Cervantes said priorities and spending will be directed by the advisory committee. He recommends as members himself, the mayor, developers and representatives from the community, the Monrovia Unified School District, the NAACP, and job training and child care programs.
The City Council must approve the committee.
The program will be paid for mainly through federal Community Development Block Grant funds and Monrovia Redevelopment Agency money, Cervantes said. Donations from businesses and developers will also be solicited.
The largest sum, $2.3 million, will be allocated for the first year. The city expects to spend $2 million in the second year and $1.4 million in each of the next three years.
Not First Effort
This is not the first stab the city has taken at upgrading the area.
A decade ago, the city designated a larger zone bordered by Foothill Boulevard and Myrtle, Shamrock and Central avenues as a Neighborhood Strategy Area because of its largely substandard housing.
Believing that an infusion of city funds into the community would boost private investment, the Redevelopment Agency pumped $10 million into the 10-acre Canyon Park Townhomes project in the center of the 200-acre strategy area.
Although the 96-unit complex was completed in 1983, it has not attracted a significant number of private housing developments.