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Homeless Blessed

The money-strapped Hollywood Presbyterian Church has sold an apartment building to the city that it hopes to turn into 50 units of permanent housing for the homeless.

Some residents object to the deal and say the area is already inundated with social services.

The Community Redevelopment Agency paid $5.8 million last month for the property near the northeast corner of Gower Street and Hollywood Boulevard. One of the church’s tenants alerted the CRA that the site, which also includes a teen drop-in center and a parking lot, was for sale. “We got a call from Teen Canteen and the guy who runs it told us the property was for sale and they were afraid of being displaced and replaced with luxury condos,” said John McCoy, senior finance manager with the CRA.

The 102-year-old church — once the home of Christian education pioneer Henrietta Mears, author of the Sunday school curriculum Gospel Light, as well as Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and renowned preachers Louis Evans and Lloyd Ogilvie — put the property on the market last spring to help fill an $800,000 deficit. The site includes the two-story, low-income apartment complex the church bought and renovated last year, a parking lot purchased in the late 1970s and the teen drop-in center.

“We weren’t living within the budget,” said First Hollywood pastor Charles Suhayda. “And that is why we had to sell off the property.”

The CRA plans to tear down the apartment complex and relocate tenants in the three units still occupied. The project will be a major part of L.A.’s efforts to address the homeless problem in Hollywood, which has the city’s second-largest concentration of homeless people after Skid Row.

Opponents argue the area is already overrun with homeless, drugs, crime and social services. “The neighborhood already does too much,” said Hollywood resident Missy Kelly. “Let’s spread the wealth around. Let them run their program somewhere else. Let’s see how another neighborhood welcomes them.”

The CRA hopes to resell the property to a nonprofit agency, which will then devise a plan to build permanent homeless housing. One social-service provider said that the project may be similar to the St. George Hotel in downtown Los Angeles run by the Skid Row Housing Trust, which has on-site nurses and mental health-care providers.

“It will run and feel like an apartment you would rent, but will include on-site supportive services for the residents and others in need in the community, said Leslie Wise, program manager with the Los Angeles Corporation for Supportive Housing. “It is a new way to think of housing the homeless. Historically, it was let’s stick the homeless in a shelter and give them services. But those services that are provided in emergency settings aren’t as successful without housing stability.”

Wise said residents will pay monthly rents, abide by rules and regulations and take part in social programs, including mental-health services.

In January, the CRA will begin accepting bids from nonprofits that want to run the program and later from developers. Construction of the estimated 50 units could begin as early as 2007.

Residents and members of neighborhood groups are lining up to fight the project.

“If that church was still being involved I would probably be in favor because they are so good at doing things,” said Richard MacNaughton, a member of the Eastwood Coalition. “My experience with the CRA has been that they do things in a very poor manner and I would be highly skeptical that they would be able to handle the project properly.”

George Abrahams, vice president of the Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Association, added, “Once you sell the property you have no say. I don’t blame the church. But our community is a social-service dumping ground. All these residential areas are inundated with homeless.”

Social-service providers and members of Eric Garcetti’s and Tom LaBonge’s staffs plan to offer bus tours of similar projects on December 10.

“Hopefully we will engage the people who are concerned and get them to understand what is happening here and hopefully they will support it and see the value of it,” said Helmi Hisserich, regional administrator with the CRA. “It would be wonderful if everyone in Hollywood was completely supportive of the project. We can’t expect everybody is going to think it is great. We have to make decisions on what is needed. We still do have a homeless population and we feel it is important that we address that need.”

Next moves: A community meeting, organized by area residents, will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 10, at the Blue Palms Lounge, 6126 Hollywood Blvd.


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