By Lisa Robins
The mysterious Venice-Dell-Pacific (VDP) is a controversial project which would create 136 units of affordable and permanent supportive housing on city owned land in the median currently being used as a parking lot, bordering North and South Venice Boulevards, Dell, and Pacific Avenues.
There’s been a maelstrom of competing claims by various groups around Venice, and I’m going to attempt to simplify the issues and give the basics. Over the next couple of issues, the Beachhead will dive deeper into competing concerns about the potential development.
On November 8th, 2016, Proposition HHH received 77% voter approval. HHH allows the City of LA up to 1.2 billion to finance Affordable and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), and facilities for the homeless such as service centers, clinics, storage facilities, showers, etc. It’s not available to fund services or operations.
Permanent Supportive Housing combines permanent, affordable housing for the homeless with support services “designed to build independent living and tenancy skills, assistance with integrating into the community, and connections to community-based health care, treatment, and employment services.”
As part of a program designed to implement HHH, approximately 40 City owned parcels throughout LA have been identified as “opportunity sites”, properties which are underused or vacant. 30 of these 40 have been designated for development to provide affordable housing thus far. Council District 11 currently has 3 of these 40 city owned properties.
Mike Bonin is our current City Council Representative. District 11 covers all or a portion of the following: Brentwood, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Palms, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Venice, West Los Angeles, Westchester and LAX.
Last December, the City of LA, as part of this citywide program in every council district, chose Venice Community Housing (VCH), in partnership with Hollywood Community Housing (HCH), to enter a two year, exclusive negotiating relationship to develop one of the three properties; Venice-Dell-Pacific Permanent Supportive Housing community.
Venice Community Housing (VCH) and HCH are non-profit developers who create neighborhood based housing through public/private partnerships.
The mission of VCH is “to reduce homelessness, maximize affordable housing, empower residents, provide social services, and advocate for public policy that protects and strengthens the economic, racial and cultural diversity of Venice and other neighborhoods on the Westside of Los Angeles.”
There have been several public community feedback meetings since January 2017, the last one in July, to determine elements the community is interested in including in the proposed development. Becky Dennison, Executive Director of VCH since February 2016, has been appearing regularly within the Venice community to ask for feedback and answer questions.
After plans are submitted to the City in December, about 18 months of public hearings are required before the project could receive approval.
CH is in the process of gathering support for the project through various methods including: small informational meetings in homes and organizations by invitation, and students knocking on doors and passing out flyers. If all goes well, the project will be approximately two years to groundbreaking.
The building itself
Venice-Dell-Pacific would consist of 140 units: housing studios and one or two bedroom apartments. The architect is Culver City based Eric Owen Moss. A shared Community Arts Space, with a flexible design for multiple use, would host events, “healthy clubs”, and community meetings. There are plans for arts focus groups to help fully employ the Arts Space.
Social enterprise small scale retail shops, arts, and housing would share the street level on the west side of Grand Canal (which intersects the property), and Pacific.
Two new parking structures would be centered in the core of each property. The east side parking structure would continue to be for public use, while the west side structure would add additional parking for VDP tenants and visitors, as required by code.
VCH will do a traffic study and an Environmental Impact Review. Venice-Dell-Pacific hopes to improve traffic by employing “smart parking technology”, instead of the current practice of “1 in and 1 out”. Venice-Dell Pacific is staying within the limits of Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan.
It would be 3 or 2 levels, with varied roofs and decks. Total height of the building is 25-35 ft. VCH won’t be asking for height variances (exceptions to current height restrictions). The setback (space between the sidewalk and building) would be 5-30 ft.
Although there have been visuals shared at community meetings, these were “massings” designed to give a general idea of the shape and size of the project. There is currently no final design. The square footage of each unit is currently being worked out. Ms. Dennison told me that studios will range between 275-400 square feet.
There would be open space for tenants, and green and open space for all. The Venice library and space for the Friday Farmers Market would remain. PSH buildings are required to remain affordable for at least 55 years.
Who would get to live at Venice-Dell-Pacific? Venice-Dell-Pacific would consist of; ½ (68 units) Permanent Supportive Housing for formerly homeless individuals and families, ¼ (34 units) Low Income artist -containing a mix of studios and apartments (not yet finalized), ¼ (34 units) Low Income families (studios and apts.) Plus 4 units (apartments) for on-site resident managers. The two buildings would insure 24/7 staffing to provide onsite support and maintenance services. 4 additional full time case workers would support residents but reside elsewhere. They would meet regularly in on site offices and community spaces within the property coordinating access to services.
Additionally, partnerships will be developed with existing service providers, food pantries, and other community based organizations to support residents.
Tenants are chosen through the Co-ordinated Entry System (CES)
A street outreach team will proactively market to homeless people to be put on a centralized list. The CES employs a detailed assessment of each homeless person to attempt to utilize a “matching process” for apartments and potential residents. People with the most need move to the top. One criteria for “a good fit” is if housing is close to where one has been receiving services. Chronic conditions, and the length of time of homelessness, are other factors taken into consideration. The wait list will be regional within Westside communities, and the street outreach team will prioritize Venice homeless people within legal limits.
There are currently more than 10,000 on the wait list.County-wide measurements of income Affordable housing (cheaper housing) = 60% of area median. Individual-about $37,000, Family of 4- $50,000- $55K (currently $54K)
Low-income artists= must show a panel their art, and qualify financially.
Permanent Supportive Housing =for the chronically homeless. Permanent Supportive Housing provides housing for life (as opposed to Transitional Housing which has time limits) If a PSH tenant’s income becomes higher than the limit, transition out of the unit is encouraged. Where they would go in LA’s housing market is beyond me.
Becky Dennison of VCH states, “Every community benefits from affordable housing and diversity, particularly Venice, which was created from artists and bohemians… its goal is to democratize the neighborhood.”
Additionally, Fair Housing Laws demand a reduction of geographical segregation of affordable housing. In other words, by law you can’t just sell prime real estate in order to fund low income housing in existing low income neighborhoods.
VCH is committed to protect affordable housing in Venice, taking the solution to where the problem is.
Of Council District 11’s 4 properties, 3 have been awarded for development. I’ve just learned that the Firehouse in Westchester will not be developed into PSH as previously stated.
1 in WLA –The animal shelter on Pico
2 in Venice- Thatcher Yard (Maintenance yard in the Oxford triangle), and Venice-Dell Pacific
The third potential development in Venice, the Metro bus depot, is separate from the City land program, and is in the community engagement process. It would be mixed income, mixed use, with 30% affordable housing.
Current PSH units
I tried to find a current list of PSH units in LA but found it difficult. Becky tells me the United Way is working on amassing the statistics. There are currently 6,000 people in supplemental housing citywide. The entire Westside hosts only 5% of LA’s Permanent Supportive Housing. Venice contains 41 existing PSH units, and less than 1,000 affordable housing units. Santa Monica has around 350 PSH units, and 3000 affordable housing units.Del Rey has 60 existing PSH units Brentwood’s VA site will contain 1800 units of PSH currently in development, however this stems from a Federal program specifically for veterans. Pacific Palisades and Malibu host zero PSH units as far as Becky knows. However there are many homeless residents camping in the hills and on the streets.
VCH currently has 216 units of affordable housing in Venice, Mar Vista and Del Rey.
At our community meeting Linda Lucks, Community Outreach for VCH asked, “Do you know where the VCH’s 14 existing apartment buildings are located? Perhaps if you don’t know, it’s because they’re well-managed and fit into the fabric of their neighborhoods in Venice, Del Rey and Mar Vista.”
VCH has not built new affordable or PSH units in Venice for 20 years, though they have preserved and utilized existing units during that time. ½ of 1% of housing in Venice is permanent supportive housing. There’s been no new 100% affordable development in Venice since 1995, except senior housing project on Ocean Front Walk. Additionally, we’ve lost affordable housing from Airbnb.
The public/private partnerships would be funded through HHH, foundations, tax credits and private support. Like charitable donations, funders get tax write offs.General Obligation Bonds (GO Bonds) will be funded by a property tax levy based on its assessed value. Construction cost per unit is approximately 350,000. Ultimately, Ms. Dennison points out, “It’s more expensive to leave people living on the streets”.
Affordable housing stabilizes and increases property values in lower-income communities, but the fear is that is decreases values in high income communities like Venice. Though within Venice, property values are still extremely high for those living near existing affordable and permanent supportive housing.
Permanent supportive housing tenants receive rent subsidies through HUD (Housing Urban Development), which issues Section 8 vouchers. The County Health Department also subsidies PSH.
Neighborhood concerns and Organizations against the Venice-Dell-Pacific project.
During a meeting on my block Becky Dennison shared, “VCH asked, “How do you bring harmony to this community?” She noted that small community meetings show 90% support for the project. New Bethel Baptist Church, and Israel Levin Center have hosted meetings and are very supportive.
The 2 main organizations in opposition to the proposed development appear to be “Fight Back Venice” and “Venice Vision”. They are well organized and funded, and share anger at Councilmember Bonin, for his tactics to serve the homeless, sponsoring a “recall Bonin” campaign.
Labeling Venice-Dell-Pacific the “Monster in the Median” by both groups, their main concerns seem to be; Unfair distribution of new PSH units in Venice- They claim Venice is set to host more homeless per square mile, and Bonin is selling property in his other districts to fund building in Venice. Lack of sobriety threshold (no requirements to be clean and sober). Lack of services for potential residents. They’re concerned about the effect Venice-Dell-Pacific would have on neighboring children. They’re claiming VCH is aiming to skirt zoning laws. Currently, there is an ordinance moving through the LA City Council to streamline the approval process for PSH. This would not apply to Venice-Dell-Pacific because the ordinance does not include public property zoned as open space, and VDP is on such property. The biggest obvious question is why not sell one or both of the Venice properties to subsidize more units in a less expensive area? And they ask, why build new developments instead of refurbishing existing buildings? (In other neighborhoods) These concerns will be explored in our next Beachhead issue.
Seems to me that the nightmarish worst case scenario is that Venice-Dell-Pacific will be a huge, Soviet style block of a building a block from the beach. It will be filled to the brim with crazy, criminal, drug addicted thieves ready to rape and pillage the neighborhood. No one is watching or caring as they gleefully enjoy their free ride while the developers profit. A blight and embarrassment to us all.
The utopian best case scenario is that Venice-Dell-Pacific will be a model community of formerly homeless and low income families and artists sharing a brand new state of the art building, healing and thriving through new found security. Supported by professional case workers with services tailored to each resident to help them become contributing members of the Venice community at large. A shining example adding diversity, heart and soul to us all.
My guess is the truth lies somewhere in between. “Will this development change things?” Becky was asked. Her response? “One won’t, but four will”.
It’s a dense learning curve to understand homelessness, and understand what our City is attempting to do about it. I’ve done my best to understand and present the facts, and will continue to report as I learn. Please notify the Beachhead if I’ve misstated a fact, and we’ll continue the conversation in our next issue.