When Bong Hwan Kim was hired as director of the Korean Youth Center four years ago, housing development was not part of his job description. The center's gang prevention, family counseling and athletic programs occupied his time.
But gradually, center officials began to look for ways to ease overcrowded living conditions in Koreatown--home to more than 60,000 people, many of them Latino and Korean immigrants crammed together in aging apartment buildings.
In addition, the 34-year-old Kim wanted to see his community "not just doing something to benefit Koreans, but (other) people who live in Koreatown."
Both goals came together Tuesday at the groundbreaking for a new youth center that will include 19 low-income apartments. The $4.6-million venture is the first housing project for low-income families built by a nonprofit Korean-American group in Los Angeles, Kim said.
Although the project has been in the planning stages for two years, it now has a symbolic meaning for a Korean-American community still struggling to get back on its feet after losing hundreds of businesses to arson and looting in the riots.
"This is a stepping-off point to the rebuilding of Koreatown," said H. Cooke Sunoo, one of the center's founders, at Tuesday's ceremony. "The timing at this particular point gives our community an optimistic outlook."
More housing is needed in the community because population growth has outpaced new construction, said Maya Dunne, director of policy and planning for the city's Housing Preservation and Production Department. Dunne had no specific figures for Koreatown, but she said the population in the central city area, which includes Koreatown, has grown by more than 19% in the last decade, while the housing supply has increased by only 6%.
The first floor of the five-story building will house the youth center, the first community-based social services agency set up by Korean-Americans in Los Angeles, 17 years ago.
It was begun to address concerns that immigrant youths were gravitating toward gangs, and it remains the largest center serving Korean-Americans, with a $1.2-million annual budget. The center provides recreational activities, family services, job training and placement and health education.
Funding was stitched together from a variety of public and private sources, including the city's Housing Preservation and Production Department, the state Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Local Initiatives Support Corp., which raises money from the private sector to help community groups meet local housing needs. The Korean-owned Hanmi Bank has provided a $1.4-million construction loan.
Although the project is small, the new building has been designed to fit in with the surrounding apartment houses. "We're not building (housing) projects," said Denise Fairchild, director of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. "When it's being built by community people, they make it fit into the neighborhood."
The units should be ready for occupancy by December, 1993, Kim said.