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EAST LOS ANGELES : Residents Upgrading Estrada Courts

January 16, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Wearing orange T-shirts and white hard hats, 10 men dug a trench in a driveway of Estrada Courts last week in what is being hailed as the first effort to hire residents to maintain and improve the city's aging housing projects.

Most of the workers, making as much as $18 an hour including workers' compensation benefits, competed with 40 other applicants to replace the housing project's water and sewer system. They say they are now the envy of their friends.

"It's pretty good (pay), but we work hard for it," said Jesse Larios, 20, who wears an elastic waist guard because he works the mechanical shovel most of the day.

Juan Patron, 21, who said he has lived at Estrada Courts since he was 1, had worked in low-paying department store sales jobs. "Sometimes other people ask me if they're going to be hiring, but I don't know," Patron said.

There will be more jobs, officials said, but when they will materialize is uncertain. Maria del Angel, treasurer of the nonprofit Estrada Courts Resident Management Corp., said that the three- to six-month sewer project will be followed by others to replace security doors and windows at the 50-year-old, 413-unit housing project.

The construction project is unusual in that residents formed their own nonprofit corporation--one among five in the city's 21 housing projects--underwent management training, and received help from the Southern California Gas Co. to train the workers in safety and mechanics, said Donald J. Smith, executive director of the Los Angeles Housing Authority.

The training allowed the residents' corporation to bid for the jobs, provided that it links up with an established business entity--in this case the East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU)--to insure the construction bonds, get the building permits, handle the equipment and provide the technical expertise. About one year ago, the residents' corporation received a $700,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the improvements, which started in mid-December.

"This work would have been going on, but it wouldn't have been done by the residents," Smith said. "This way, the residents get the opportunity to bid and do the work themselves."

A similar effort using resident workers to modernize Nickerson Gardens will soon get under way, Smith said.

At the opening celebration of the Estrada Courts project, TELACU President David Lizarraga said that future work in poor communities must include those for whom the work is being done.

"There are talented people who live here that want to work. This is a tremendous opportunity that we have, the first in the nation, giving the opportunity to residents to gain skills and go to work," he said.

Joseph Shuldiner, an assistant secretary at HUD, had worked on the early stages of the effort to hire resident workers at Estrada Courts when he was executive director of the Los Angeles Housing Authority.

"The mission to provide decent housing for people of low income is a very simple mission," he said. "We're talking about the quality of life and in many ways it's a transition . . . to stabilize families and give them the economic incentive to move on."

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