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Habitat Los Angeles dedicates first NSP2 homes

By Julie Gurnon

Dedicating a Habitat home is always cause for celebration. But when it came time for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles to dedicate the first 10 homes built with funds from the second round of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, a party was in order.

More than 300 people came to the Imperial Highway neighborhood block party in Lynwood, California, on May 14. The homes are located one mile west of Long Beach Freeway (Interstate 710) on Imperial Highway, a major east-west thoroughfare that runs 41 miles through Orange and Los Angeles counties.

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View of the Imperial Highway development in Lynwood, California. The 10 townhouse-style duplexes were built in part with NSP2 funds.

The homes — five townhouse-style duplexes with three bedrooms and two baths per unit — are not only the first NSP2-funded homes, they are also the first affordable homes in Lynwood certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

NSP2 is a federal program authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program’s purpose is to revitalize blighted communities affected by a high number of foreclosed homes and vacant properties.

Habitat Greater Los Angeles, one of seven U.S. affiliates partnering with Habitat for Humanity International, received $27.9 million of the $137.6 million awarded to HFHI by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in February 2010.

Building hope where it’s needed
Overcrowding is a common housing problem in Lynwood, a densely populated city in southern Los Angeles County with more than 14,000 people per square mile. An unemployment rate of 19 percent and high housing costs add to the need for affordable housing in the city.

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The Carrazco family (from left): Jesus, Alma, Angel, Sheila and Enrique.

The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau (American Community Survey 2005-2009) show median monthly housing costs of $1,819 for mortgaged homeowners and $918 for renters. In addition, 61 percent of mortgaged homeowners and 61 percent of renters spent 30 percent or more of their household income on housing.

The Carrazco family is like many in Lynwood, struggling to find an affordable place to live with adequate space. Jesus works as a machinist and Alma cares for the couple’s three children: Sheila, 20; Enrique, 16; and Angel, 3. The one-bedroom, one-bath home they were living in wasn’t big enough for all five of them, and so, Sheila, a college student, and Enrique lived with relatives part of the time.

The Carrazco family is looking forward to owning their own home and having everyone under the same roof. The mortgage payment will be slightly less than the $700 per month they were paying for the apartment.

“We have been dreaming for a long time about homeownership,” Alma said. “I have no words to say. Just being given a chance to receive a new Habitat for Humanity home for our family means the world to us — and having a safe place for our kids to share memories.”

Homes built or rehabilitated with NSP2 funds must be sold to individuals and families who earn less than 80 percent of the area media income. In the Imperial Highway townhouses, two of the 10 partner families earn below 60 percent AMI, and eight earn below 50 percent AMI.

Working together for change
Erin Rank, president and CEO of Habitat Greater Los Angeles, called the 10 homes “a testament to everyone’s love and hard work. They will stand for years to come as part of a strong and vibrant community.”

Hundreds of people contributed to the project: The partner families worked 500 hours of sweat equity; affiliate staff members worked long hours to manage the project; government officials provided critical support and assistance; countless individuals gave their time and labor; and more than 30 local organizations provided additional funding, in-kind donations and labor.

Many of those people attended the block party, including Aide Castro, mayor of Lynwood; Ricardo Lara, member of the California State Assembly; and Yolanda Chavez, deputy assistant secretary for grant programs in HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development and the former executive officer of the Los Angeles Housing Department.

“We recognize how fortunate we are that Habitat is one of our key partners,” Chavez said. “I’m originally from Los Angeles, so it’s very nice to come home and see that the work I do in D.C. has a real impact in our communities here in southern California.”

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The playground donated by the Sprite Spark Parks Project.

One partner’s contribution was especially popular with the children: a newly installed playground nestled between two of the townhouses, courtesy of the Sprite Spark Parks Project. Sprite, part of the Coca-Cola Co., established this multiyear initiative to construct, refresh and refurbish parks, playgrounds and outdoor spaces across the United States.

Such partnerships will enable Habitat of Greater Los Angeles to complete its remaining NSP2 projects: building three additional homes on vacant property; rehabilitating 60 foreclosed homes in Lynwood and Southgate; and providing soft-second loans to 35 low-income individuals and families.

When NSP2 ends in February 2013, the landscape of these Los Angeles communities will be noticeably different. Passers-by and residents will notice fewer abandoned houses and vacant lots; more individuals and families living and thriving in simple, attractive, affordable homes; neighbors looking out for one another and engaged in community issues; and lots more neighborhood block parties.

Julie Gurnon is the NSP2 writer/editor at Habitat for Humanity International, based in Americus.

Photo credits: Ken Osbourn