A different approach to affordable housing *

Plans to build a towering, 56-unit affordable housing project on Eagle Rock Boulevard on the edge of Glassell Park have met with opposition and criticism from some residents. But the same developer, Women Organizing Resources Knowledge and Services (WORKS), has won wide spread praise for an affordable housing project in nearby Highland Park. Instead of new construction, WORKS renovated a compound of aging  buildings known as Pisgah Village near Echo Street and Avenue 60. The cluster of buildings was connected to a religious movement started in 1895 by Finis Yoakum.  After renovating the structures and building five new buildings in a similar style, Pisgah Village reopened in 2007 to provide 47 homes for low-income seniors amid flower gardens and vegetable patches.  The project has been honored by the Los Angeles Conservancy and was recently profiled in the Los Angeles Times for its food program. Earlier this month, the California Preservation Foundation honored WORKS with a design award for its work on Pisgah Village.

* Update: Pisgah Village was also honored by the Highland Park Heritage Trust as an example of “sensitive preservation and infill housing.” Trust member Nicole Possert adds:  

It should be noted that this particular property is in the Highland Park [Historic Preservation Overlay Zone] and was already listed as a California Register district.  So, what could be done on this site had review at both the local and state level for appropriateness. For once, a preservation success story. 

Photo from WORKS website


  1. Never underestimate the selfishness of NIMBYs.

  2. The discussions I’ve seen break down as follows:

    Group A: Citizens who read about the project in forums like this, and instantly decide they’re opposed. This amounts to knee-jerk NIMBY-ism, they’re quick to complain, but unwilling to devote time offline to attend a meeting and learn about the project or its sponsors.

    Group B: Citizens who read about the project in forums like this, and decide they need to learn more. They attend meetings, learn what WORKS does, they might even drive out and look at existing developments WORKS has funded. They typically see this development has great potential and should be a good thing for the community.

  3. it’s in my backyard (i live on El Paso Dr.). i’m not opposed to development there, on the contrary I’m all for it, but if you’re familiar with that lot I think it’s very fair to be skeptical about the quality of life being designed in this project. I am very familiar with that lot. It is not huge. They are planning 56 units in a space that would normally accommodate 18. At a very busy intersection. Nestled cozily between a medical marijuana shop and a gas station/car wash. Housing in this location should have a greenspace buffer around it. The people who will live there need and deserve that.

    I hear what WORKS did in HP was nice. Love the flower gardens and vegetable patches. WORKS is not planning to do that in this 56 unit building on ERB. I’ve read their proposal on lacity.org (interestingly, the proposal is not on the WORKS website). They are allocating a 16′ yard in the back, and 7′ on the side, to be shared by all 56 units. Of the 2 evergreen pear trees that currently exist on the lot, 1 will remain and the other will be removed.

    If you honestly believe that the world and its issues are so black and white that all people are either Group A or Group B you need a serious reality check. I am 100% for development of that lot, lots like it, and am especially pro aiding our under-served community. But it is extremely important to me that people who need affordable housing not be treated like cattle. That’s not good for them and it’s not good for their community. Maybe you think that since this project is “for” the impoverished that it is automatically good and should be greenlit without a 2nd thought. But I think it is only good if the result is positive for the people who will live in the building. And in this case, I think we can do better. If we push them, WORKS may modify their proposal and achieve a better result. If we don’t, it’ll just be easier for subsequent cattlecar housing sites to be greenlit.

  4. @jeffro-

    Well said. I totally agree with your points.

  5. “But it is extremely important to me that people who need affordable housing not be treated like cattle.”

    VERY excellent comment.

    BTW, find out what price the city calls “affordable.” You will be very surprised, although I don’t presume this group will charge that high a price.

  6. Against projects

    Jeffro has some good points. Maybe the number of units need to be downsized and/or some other adjustments made.

    The community needs to have input in this project. Contact the councilmember’s office and attend meetings.

  7. Well, those in Group B, who attended the meetings, and saw the actual plans KNOW that there is an organic orchard of fruit trees planned for the interior courtyard. Which just goes to prove my point…

  8. Hi Marina,

    Thanks for the report from the meeting you attended. Please show us those ‘actual’ plans that you are referencing. The plans that were submitted to the city (available at http://cityplanning.lacity.org/StaffRpt/InitialRpts/CPC-2010-846.pdf) do not show an interior organic orchard. Nor do they show an accommodation of space for such a thing. So there is definitely a contradiction between the proposal that is being presented at meetings and the plans that are being submitted to the city planning commission.

  9. i’m sorry, i stand corrected. there is a section of the planning proposal that I somehow missed. the courtyard is described in it. it sounds quite nice. still concerned about the density of the building, but the overall plan looks a lot better than i previously thought.

  10. The plan is decent (in my layperson’s opinion), and the building will be certified LEED silver. Also, the space is located between the animal hospital and the Time Warner cable offices, so it’s sheltered somewhat from the gas station and medical marijuana shop (which has been targeted for closure, as I understand it). The animal hospital reportedly liked the idea of the organic gardens so much that they offered up their unused rear parking area for additional gardening space – how that might work out is being negotiated, from what I understand.

  11. Development issues are usually very complicated with many valid pros and cons. The advantages and disadvantages to this particular development should have been debated by “all” those impacted before PLUM and City Planning signed off on the plan. That debate, however, didn’t occur because adequate outreach to the folks who will be impacted didn’t occur. Who heard about this before it was too late to make suggestions and changes? Anyone…? Bueller…?
    (1) As I understand it, WORKS should have notified everyone within a 500 foot radius of the property, which includes both the Eagle Rock and the Glassell Park neighborhood councils, not to mention the people living and working in that area. They did not do that.
    Why did that notification not happen?
    (2) As I understand it, low income in this case means 60% of median income. If median income is, say, 40,000USD. That’s about 25,000. The government at various levels contributes to paying the tenants’ rent, too.
    (3) If the motivation of WORKS is some kind of altruism, why do they insist on building more than 400% beyond allowable density with 56 units (only 13 is normally allowed) and with less than 1/2 a parking space per apartment? Why not build 13 units, like they are suppose to? Why not include retail space, like they are suppose to (according to the area’s design overlay). If a developer can skirt ordinances and rules anytime they ask, why have these rules at all?

    CONCLUSION: There are several shades of gray between opposition and support. The world isn’t black and white (despite the claims by a former US president). Sometimes, accommodation and compromise is what life is all about. Perhaps if WORKS includes more green space, parking and retail space to what is increasingly looking like a “monster development,” reason and moderation can rule the day in northeast L.A….for a change.
    Thanks for hearing me out and taking the time to read my little rant.^^

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