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Cities Weigh Joint Effort on Homeless : Services: Nonprofit group would pool money for housing and rehabilitation facility on Veterans Administration property. Many details--and funding--still must be worked out.

March 16, 1995|MARY MOORE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Several Westside cities are considering whether to help fund a project on the Veterans Administration property in Westwood that would provide temporary housing and rehabilitation programs for homeless veterans.

The new facility, which would have more than 150 beds, is the brainchild of New Directions, a nonprofit organization that provides housing, job training and other services for veterans. The group estimates that it will cost $5 million to refurbish a building, now vacant, on the property and make it livable.

New Directions has applied for a variety of funding, including money from the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. In addition to housing, the residential facility will offer drug detoxification programs, psychological counseling and job training.

"This is a holistic approach to homelessness," said John Keveaney, executive director of New Directions.

Since 1991, the group has operated a similar program in Mar Vista, where it has two housing facilities--a 10-bed unit for men and an eight-bed unit for women. Clients usually live at the facilities for up to two years and then find permanent housing, Keveaney said.

Most of the referrals for the new program will come through local veterans organization, Keveaney said, and New Directions will allocate a specific number of beds for veterans who are from the cities that help fund the proposed facility.

The project represents "a regional approach to helping out on this problem," said Phyllis Mueller, housing and redevelopment manager for the city of Santa Monica.

But before the ideas for the facility become reality, Keveaney said, New Directions must work out the details of the project: securing a lease on the building and assuring funding sources for the project.

Officials from Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills said they are considering funding the project in amounts ranging from more than $1 million for Los Angeles to $50,000 from Beverly Hills. The cities are likely to use federal housing funds, money allocated annually to cities mostly by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Their contributions would be onetime payments, earmarked for repairing the building.

The Culver City Redevelopment Agency has already agreed to allocate $750,000.

However, the use of that money for a project outside Culver City's jurisdiction is the subject of hot debate among redevelopment attorneys statewide. Many argue that redevelopment law restricts the expenditure of such funds to the city in which the money is collected.

The issue is at the forefront in Orange County. City officials, who are considering a similar proposal to pool redevelopment funds and build housing for the homeless, are drafting special legislation that would allow the cities to use the money in this manner.

Orange County officials say Culver City could leave itself vulnerable to litigation from low-income housing advocates. But the city's redevelopment attorney, Murray Kane, disagrees.

"What we're saying is that the money is being used to expand the affordable housing for Culver City people--a certain number of beds will be reserved for Culver City residents," Kane said.

Funding questions aside, Westside officials agree that homelessness is an issue they can tackle best together.

"This is just another example of the (Westside) cities getting together to look at problems on a regional basis," said Mary Cynar, assistant to the city manager in Beverly Hills.

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