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HOLLYWOOD : El Centro Called 'Model' Housing Project

November 27, 1994|SCOTT COLLINS

New tenants are moving into the refurbished Hollywood El Centro, an $11-million housing development that has reclaimed 70-year-old bungalows once plagued by gangs, drugs and graffiti.

City officials are praising the 88-unit complex at 6211 De Longpre Ave. as an example of high-quality apartments for low-income residents.

They hope that such efforts will help reverse a chronic shortage of affordable housing in Hollywood, where slum conditions are rife and where less than half the households can afford market-rate rents.

"We look at this as a model project for the neighborhood," said Len Betz, a spokesman for the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, which helped fund El Centro with a $4-million loan.

"These units were in a real state of disrepair. They date back to the 1920s, and there was lots of crime in and around (the apartments). They didn't look like the kind of housing that could be saved . . . but (the developer) has renovated the units to be probably better than they ever were."

El Centro, which has just undergone the first of two phases of renovation, exemplifies a trend toward "layered" financing of low-income housing.

As federal monies have dried up in recent years, developers have increasingly turned to funding partnerships involving local governments, nonprofit companies and banks.

Thomas Safran, a veteran for-profit developer of low-income housing in Southern California, pulled together funding for El Centro from a variety of public and private sources.

Besides the CRA loan, the project received nearly $5 million in equity from Mission First, a subsidiary of Southern California Edison, plus bank loans and federal tax credits.

Though the project is technically considered a rehabilitation, "we really rebuilt these units," said Safran, who bought the property in 1991. "We put up new stucco, plumbing, electrical (wiring) and heating. . . . My goal was to have the equivalent of new-construction housing, and we did it."

Many of the young families who now live at El Centro would probably have had trouble finding affordable housing on their own, city officials said.

In the newly refurbished complex, they pay a fixed percentage of their income for rent, as opposed to a fluctuating market rate.

Kim Tatarsky says her new one-bedroom apartment at El Centro will give her a chance to recover from a difficult period in her life.

The 27-year-old single mother was left homeless after the Northridge earthquake damaged her previous apartment in the Sepulveda section of the San Fernando Valley.

"I've slept in cars, I've done everything," said Tatarsky, who at one point sent her 8-year-old son to live with her mother. "The fact that the rent is low (here) means I have the chance to go to school and pick up some more trades. . . . Nobody wants to stay on welfare forever."

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