Families could get affordable housing at three apartment buildings that the city of Burbank is considering buying for a project that offers low-cost housing to parents who want their kids to care about education.
"You're not going to see a giant change in grades in the first year," said Kent Salveson, the Orange County developer who created the EEXCEL program five years ago. "But what has happened is we've changed behavior. We've changed their self-esteem."
EEXCEL, which stands for Educational Excellence for Children with Environmental Limitations, combines affordable housing projects with education incentives.
Tonight, the City Council will consider a plan to spend $1.2 million--using federal funds plus $400,000 in city redevelopment money--to buy three apartment buildings with 19 apartment units on West Elmwood Street for an EEXCEL project. City officials hope to expand the project later.
Salveson has started several such projects--which are either built, managed or owned by EEXCEL--in South-Central and Downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere in the Los Angeles area. He is also looking at projects in Ohio, Arizona, Texas and Massachusetts.
But Salveson's EEXCEL projects have not always been welcomed. Sometimes officials ignore bullet holes and drug deals at an apartment project and tell Salveson that there is no need for such a program, he said.
Burbank, at the prompting of Councilman Dave Golonski, invited Salveson to work on establishing an EEXCEL project on the 100 block of West Elmwood Street, which has had a history of gang-related problems.
"If he gets into a gang, we'll evict (them)," Salveson said of the possible consequences that a youth and his parents may face as tenants. He takes an equally strong stance against drugs. Once Salveson said he evicted a mother and her family because he caught her smoking marijuana.
But for this firm stand, Salveson said he also tries to offer the children hope. Every schoolchild in his buildings receives one intensive two-hour tutoring session, which Salveson said usually brings them up to their normal grade level and helps them better understand the most difficult subject, usually math or English.
The projects also offer a study hall with tutors on duty to give students ongoing help, Salveson said.
"Instead of hating math, some of the kids are really starting to enjoy it," said Salveson, who added that he has seen cases in which a D student became an A student. EEXCEL has just completed its first self-evaluation of the project, and found that so far every student has shown at least some improvement, Salveson said.
But it is attitudes, rather than grades, that are most important. Prospective tenants are screened to identify parents who care about their children's education. Bad grades will not keep a family out of an apartment--or get them evicted--but they most likely will not be accepted if children have serious attendance and discipline problems.
The enthusiasm that Burbank has shown toward the project has been encouraging, Salveson said.
"We are looking for cities and governments that understand, really, what the problems of today are, that families are becoming more 'fractionated,' " Salveson said. "They understand that unless a meaningful effort is brought in to try and stop this cycle, the problems cities have are going to get worse."