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HomeAid Overhauls Old Apartments in Lafayette Park


HomeAid, a nonprofit corporation founded by the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, has nearly completed renovation of a 72-year-old, 47-unit apartment building at 340 S. Reno St.

The $2.2-million renovation is the organization's first permanent housing project. Since 1989, HomeAid has built or renovated 16 facilities to provide temporary shelter for the homeless in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties with the help of more than 900 companies, thousands of volunteers, and $3 million in cash and in-kind donations, said Nicolas A. Taborga, a HomeAid executive assistant.

Before HomeAid bought the Reno Street building last year, the rooms contained asbestos, the drywall had deteriorated, many of the outdated bathroom fixtures had been ripped out, kitchen cabinets were falling off and the city had ordered seismic reinforcement of the structure, said Rick Niezgodzki, a rehabilitation construction specialist with the city's Housing Preservation and Production Department.

With a $940,000 loan from the city and other funding from private sources, HomeAid bought the building and began repairs under the supervision of Ron Saienni, a construction management consultant, and his wife, Carmine, who is the project designer.

Carmine Saienni credits Niezgodzki with shepherding the project along from the city's end. "Rick really took this project to heart and became personally dedicated to its completion," she said. "He goes by the rules and he knows how to work with contractors."

Niezgodzki said the Mid-City area is one of the most overcrowded in Los Angeles, yet rents are high and some older, run-down buildings are 80% vacant. When renovations began at the Reno Street apartment, there were only 14 tenants.

"Our mission is to keep the costs down on projects like this so itdoesn't cost the new tenants an arm and a leg to live here," Niezgodzki said.

HomeAid will also be managing the building, to be named the Sammy Davis Jr. Manor in honor of the late entertainer's commitment to affordable housing. New tenants, Taborga said, must meet federal low-income limits--earning less than $26,250 a year.

One 25-year tenant who asked that his name not be used was impressed by the renovations. "It's like night and day," he said. "The old owner didn't take care of the building and a lot of people moved out. But this is a drastic change. I think they should do this with a lot of buildings."

Three more potential apartment projects in Los Angeles are in escrow, Ron Saienni said. Depending on the availability of funding, HomeAid could renovate 150 to 300 apartments a year, he added.

A grand opening with several celebrities and city officials is scheduled for Dec. 8.

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