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L.A. County Serves Eviction to American Legion Where Homeless Housing Project is Slated

11:01 AM PST on November 13, 2018

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t’s another case of "Anywhere But My Backyard" when it comes to housing the homeless.

While L.A. grapples with rising rents, gentrification, and a homelessness crisis that grew under L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, in Southeast L.A. County, a similar struggle continues to brew over the American Legion Hollydale Post 723.

The organization has been serving military veterans since the 1940s, but years of financial troubles and now recent plans for a homeless housing facility have led to its looming eviction. After being on a month-to-month lease contract with the county for several years, Post 723 recently signed a termination agreement stating it has until Nov. 15 to vacate.

The county owned property in the city of Downey is now slated to be turned into a homeless housing facility that will provide affordable apartments and onsite support services for homeless persons, including vets. County Supervisor Janice Hahn saw the site as underutilized and as a way to address the regional homeless crisis. The Downey City Council approved the plans earlier this year.

But its approval has been met with resistance.

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South Gate residents who live near county-owned property on the Downey border protest a proposed homeless housing project in the area Oct. 20, 2018. Photos by Stephanie Rivera.

The Community's Opposition

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]outh Gate residents living the in Hollydale community, which surrounds the Downey site, believe it will lower their property value and increase crime.

“We’re not saying we’re opposed to homeless housing — we definitely need it, there is a crisis — but we just say not here because we have another one that’s proposed a half a mile away and this facility, if its built here, doesn’t affect any Downey residents,” David Smith, a longtime South Gate resident in Hollydale, told L.A. Taco.

Smith was one of about 40 South Gate residents who rallied against the project Oct. 20 in front of the county property, on the corner of Garfield Avenue and Gardendale Street.

The county’s project would be less than half a mile away from a 60-unit apartment complex already approved by the city of South Gate. That project, on Imperial Highway near the LA River and 710 Freeway, is expected to provide similar housing and services.

Now, community members plan to attend a town hall with Downey Mayor Sean Ashton where they plan to speak out against the development. The event is scheduled to take place Thursday, Nov. 15 – the same day that Post 723 has been ordered to vacate the property.

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Local Government's Take

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]outh Gate politicians have also made a stance against the project.

On Oct. 9, the South Gate City Council approved letters opposing the development to Hahn, the Downey City Council, and Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents South Gate. The letter pointed out that the property was not zoned for the proposed project and that the southern campus of the county’s expansive 74-acre Rancho Los Amigos parcel just a few blocks east would make more sense.

That campus, adjacent to the Catholic high school St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy, is currently being evaluated for development, including new headquarters for county departments and a sports complex. Abandoned buildings currently sit at the location that serves as a junkyard of sorts.

“We clearly support efforts to provide housing for homeless individuals, however do not believe that the county property proposed for this new housing development is the best site for this use, especially given the availability of county-owned property within Downey that is vastly better suited for this use,” the letter read.

'I am really surprised by the response we have seen to a proposal to house veterans.'

The council also proposed the possibility of purchasing and annexing the property by the city of South Gate.

Hahn’s spokeswoman Liz Odendahl says the opposite will happen.

“I have seen how successful these types of projects have been in other areas of the county,” Odendahl told L.A. Taco via email. “When it is finally built, it will not only improve public safety, it will be a beautiful addition to this neighborhood.”

Odendahl confirmed the Supervisor received the council’s letter but said Hahn still stands by the project.

“I am really surprised by the response we have seen to a proposal to house veterans,” Hahn said in a statement to L.A. Taco. “There is no greater way to honor a veteran who has risked their life for our freedoms than ensuring they have a safe place to live when they return home. That is why this project remains a priority for me and I hope that the individuals who oppose it will have a change of heart.”

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Post 723's Financial Instability

[dropcap size=big]P[/dropcap]ost 723 is a chapter of a nationwide veterans nonprofit organization. Besides helping vets, it had also rented its hall for parties, operated a bar onsite, and rented the land for swap meets or carnival grounds. It was also used as a polling location during elections.

While some veterans are unhappy with the news, Post 723’s closure and future use is seen positively by others. Juan Gonzalez, who joined Post 723 as a board member at the end of last year, said he is in support of any project that helps veterans.

“Post 723 is in bad shape. It would easily take one million dollars to fix all its deficiencies,” Gonzalez told L.A. Taco, mentioning issues with electricity, roofing, plumbing, and air conditioning.  

Post 723 has struggled with years of financial mismanagement leading to missed payments on rent and property taxes. In response to a Public Records Act request by L.A. Taco, the county released documents showing delinquent property tax bills between 2014 and 2017, totaling $58,563.

Gonzalez said while the city and county have agreed to wipe rent dues over the last years, Post 723 is still liable for its delinquent tax fees. Though he is worried about what the Post’s future rent will look like, Gonzalez said he was assured by Downey Mayor Pro Tem Rick Rodriguez the city would help the Post find a new location.

Rodriguez did not respond to a request for comment.

“What is to come of this place afterwards, should be in the best interest of those vets who need assistance getting on their feet,” Gonzalez said. “Post 723 will continue no matter what. If anything the board members are young, educated, and determined.”

RELATED: South Gate Community Fights Proposal for Housing Homeless Veterans on Downey Border

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