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Group Given Deadline for Apartment Repairs

Housing: Officials tell organization to fix building by April 1. But other projects seem to be progressing.

March 07, 1997|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A North Hills community organization run by supporters of Councilman Richard Alarcon is again in trouble with city building inspectors for delays in repairing dilapidated buildings and quake-damaged structures.

Citing vandalized apartments and raw sewage flowing from an open pipe, inspectors have ordered Neighborhood Empowerment and Economic Development to vacate tenants from a Blythe Street building by April 1 unless repair work is started. They also alerted the county health department to the leaking sewage.

But the new headaches for Neighborhood Empowerment and Economic Development come amid signs that the nonprofit organization is finally making progress in repairing one of the areas most severely damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

The Los Angeles Housing Department on Thursday approved a $678,000 construction loan for repairing the Blythe Street building, a structure that suffers almost entirely from vandalism rather than quake damage. And earlier this week, workers began repairs at two quake-damaged buildings on Orion Avenue.

The flurry of action comes after The Times disclosed the group's failure to repair the Blythe Street building and five others in the Orion-Parthenia ghost town long after most other quake-damaged areas have been restored. The organization was the primary developer in the area.

Of the six buildings, the group had completed work on the smallest building and started work on another.

Although the organization had no experience in housing rehabilitation, the Housing Department had loaned it more than $7 million to repair the six buildings, plus an additional $3.5 million for two buildings in other neighborhoods.

Since then, the housing department announced it would never again let such an inexperienced developer take on so many buildings at once. City officials also agreed to extend new short-term loans to the group to speed renovations.

At the same time, city inspectors for the Building and Safety Department increased pressure on the Housing Department and the group to get to work. The latest actions against the organization's Blythe Street building continues that pressure.

Last summer, inspectors had issued several orders to repair the building only to back off after Alarcon and housing officials intervened with promises that work would soon start.

Thursday, principal inspector Ron Skaren said he would not rescind the order to vacate until he sees work started.

He said other apartments in the building have been vandalized and are not secured against trespassers.

"Things have deteriorated severely there," Skaren said.

"Once the buildings are vacated, we will consider demolition orders if the owner does not obtain permits and do some work," he said.

Annick Derrick, a top Housing Department official, said repairs are imminent.

"The fact that we signed the loan today means that whatever problems exist will be dealt with immediately," Derrick said.

She said the tenants in the two apartment units will be moved to another location when repair work starts.

In the meantime, work began Monday at two quake-damaged buildings on Orion Avenue that are owned by the group. Work is expected to be completed in about seven months, housing officials say.

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