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From bleak housing to gleaming apartments

Villaraigosa visits the redeveloped Dana Strand project: 'You could . . . be in Irvine.'

August 07, 2007|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Hunched at the edge of the Port of Los Angeles and jounced by the rumble of truck traffic, the Dana Strand housing project was a bleak and dangerous place. Some of its 400 units were controlled by gang members; shooting and drug deals were common.

Then, in 2002, city officials moved out the families and sent in the bulldozers.

Five years later, a beaming Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was back at the redeveloped 22-acre project Monday, declaring: "You could easily be in Irvine."

Renamed the Harbor View Place Garden Apartments, the housing project has been transformed -- at a cost of more than $30 million -- into sleek, freshly painted apartments around a central courtyard. A new carpet of dark green grass is surrounded by benches and picnic tables.

When all four phases are finished a few years from now, city officials say, it will mix traditional public housing units with senior housing and market-rate single-family homes. Phase One, which has 120 units, was formally dedicated Monday.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn said the project was the first part of what she hoped would be a wave of redevelopment that will transform the city's dilapidated and violent housing projects. Many are in Watts, which she represents.

"It's good," said Armida Vasquez, 43, watching as the mayor and other city officials posed for pictures in her courtyard. Vasquez, who lived with her two children at the project before it was renovated, said gangs and drugs used to be everywhere.

Rudolf Montiel, executive director of the Los Angeles Housing Authority, said the federal, state and private money that went into Harbor View was an example of how to finance such projects. And the complex's mix of traditional subsidized public housing units, senior housing and market-rate units is also a model for future development, he said.

Financing and development of the project were arranged by the Los Angeles Community Design Center, a nonprofit developer of low-cost housing. The center is also the day-to-day property manager, meaning the housing authority is no longer in charge of the property, although it still owns the land and pays the subsidies on a number of units.

The project, built in 1942, originally housed those who poured into Los Angeles to work at the city's shipyards during World War II.

After the war, the housing authority took over the property and turned it into units for the poor.

By the 1990s, it had become a magnet for crime, drug abuse and gangs -- "neglected for decades," Hahn said. Watching the news conference Monday, many residents said they were thrilled at the beauty of their new apartments.

But some also complained that the property manager enforces such strict rules that the place sometimes doesn't feel like home.

Residents said they're not allowed to have family parties outside or let their children ride their bicycles.

Apartment managers said those rules were reasonable and were spelled out in the lease. But they said they would look into residents' concerns..

Many residents also pleaded with Villaraigosa to bring in more play structures for the children.

Kissing babies and hugging mothers as he moved toward his car, the mayor pledged to do so.

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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