Despite funds and land, homeless housing project in Boyle Heights falls through

Housing advocates face severe setback

Vacant lot on the corner of 1st and Lorena streets (Google Maps)
Vacant lot on the corner of 1st and Lorena streets (Google Maps)

City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) thwarted plans for a 49-unit homeless housing development on the corner of First and Lorena streets in Boyle Heights after it faced neighborhood backlash, the New York Times reported. The successful opposition effort, supported by city council member and PLUM chair Jose Huizar, reveals a hard truth in Los Angeles — building housing for the city’s homeless is still a challenge, even when the efforts are funded and approved by voters.

The roughly $23 million Boyle Heights development, dubbed Lorena Plaza, would have been funded by the $1.2 billion generated from Measure HHH, which voters approved in November. The nonprofit A Community of Friends proposed it on vacant land ripe for development, which was originally planned for a Metro initiative but was later discarded. Yet the project met roadblocks all along the way. Critics of the development — primarily nearby business owners and neighborhood residents — cited environmental concerns and the project’s proximity to shops as main reasons for the opposition.

Lorena Plaza would have risen next door to El Mercado, a Mexican-American spot with restaurants and mariachi bands, and across the street from the construction of the Metro Gold Line. Roughly half of the units would be for residents with mental illness.

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El Mercado’s owners were at the forefront of the opposition. The restauranteurs cited safety concerns from the rail construction as a key reason for why the place is “not an ideal location for residents.”

But housing advocates, reading between the lines, see more clearly the obstacles they will face in trying to build for the nearly 60,000 homeless population in Los Angeles.

At the moment, Lorena Plaza is stalled. [NYT] – Natalie Hoberman