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Group Leads Neighbors in Blight Fight

Community: Watts chapter of new national organization learns how to target dilapidated buildings and see to it personally that something is done.


For three years, neighbors could only watch an abandoned house in Watts deteriorate to a burned-out shell littered with broken beer bottles and syringe cartons, scarred with graffiti and inhabited by transients, crime and hopelessness.

Then the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) planted hope.

The Watts chapter of the national group, founded in January, targets deteriorated vacant houses and buildings that mar the area.

In April, community members filed a complaint with the city about an abandoned house on 109th Street that was falling apart after its owner died.

"It was an eyesore," said chapter leader Kathleen Bruton, who lives two doors from the dilapidated house. "We feared the safety of our lives and the safety of the children here who have to walk past it on their way to school."

When the city took no immediate action, group members rallied in front of the house earlier this month. They demanded that the city demolish the house or fence it off to prevent transients from loitering.

Their efforts produced results.

Joe Hughes, senior inspector from the Department of Building and Safety, attended the rally and explained procedures to the group for processing complaints. He informed them that the owner had been notified to clean up the property.

Community members talked with Fay Leggroan, who is the daughter of the deceased owner, and volunteered to do the cleanup.

They cleared the debris from inside and outside the house, boarded up doorways and windows, put up a high chain-link fence, and painted the house within days.

In March, the group protested public drinking and loitering in front of a market and vacant hotel. Four days after the demonstration, the store owner put up new lights and posted "no loitering" signs.

The group met last week to discuss sources of funding and to compile a list of abandoned properties throughout Watts they want upgraded. So far they have listed about 15 houses and estimate that there are 50 houses in the area they want restored.

The organization, composed of about 120 members, meet at neighborhood homes two to three times a month. The group is funded by foundation grants, $60 annual membership dues and small fund-raisers such as chicken dinner sales and raffles.

ACORN was established in Little Rock, Ark., in 1970 and has expanded to include more than 100,000 members in 28 states.

The group helps organize low- and moderate-income neighborhoods to deal with issues that include community safety, voter registration and unemployment.

Leaders say they hope to expand its membership to include another South-Central Los Angeles chapter or one on the Eastside.

"I am very happy with what has been done. The neighborhood looks better," Leggroan said. "Not much was done until ACORN came around."

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