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Housing First

news analysis
Rents Go Up in 'Discovered' Neighborhood
Section 8 Housing Evaporates in Bohemian Venice, Calif.

Listen Listen to Ina Jaffe's report.

Venice Beach

Crowds on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Venice Beach, Calif.

Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

"Since the market tightened up in L.A. over the past few years, I now have half as many Section 8 families living in Venice as I did three years ago."

Los Angeles housing official Steve Renehan

Susanne Chilton

Susanne Chilton on the balcony of her One Venice apartment overlooking the beach in Venice. She pays just $300 a month. "I love it and I never want to leave it, if I can help it," she says.

Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

Beachside townhouses

Two new townhouses immediately south of the One Venice building, directly on the Ocean Front Walk in Venice. The asking price for each unit is more than $2 million.

Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

gutted apartment building

One of the buildings at Lincoln Place, about a mile from the ocean, where tenants were forced out because the owner claimed he wanted to renovate the units. Some of the buildings were gutted, but no further work was done. In the one building that was renovated, a three-bedroom, two-bath lower unit rents for $2,550 a month.

Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

Lincoln Place Apartments

There are 52 buildings (795 units) at Lincoln Place Apartments in Venice. One plan calls for tearing down all the buildings and developing luxury condos.

Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

Sheila Bernard

Sheila Bernard, president of the Lincoln Place tenant's association.

Photo: Ina Jaffe, NPR News

Dec. 12, 2002 -- The Los Angeles community of Venice is a famously bohemian enclave that's long been home to artists, working-class families and the poor. But lately, developers and landlords have pursued a more well-heeled clientele.

As part of NPR's year-long Housing First project, Morning Edition this week airs three reports on the economics of housing for some of the neediest Americans. In the second of the three reports, NPR's Ina Jaffe explores what happens to the poor and elderly of Venice when their neighborhood gets "discovered."

Jaffe sets a Venice scene that she says "hasn't changed much in decades… If you need to have your navel pierced, get a henna tattoo, or add to your bikini collection, Venice Beach offers lots of options. On sunny weekends, the ocean front walk here is crowded with people who rollerblade to the beat of a different drummer."

But in Venice, as elsewhere in the nation, Jaffe says, market forces increasingly "have transformed hip but scruffy neighborhoods into upscale and trendy ones. Think Soho in New York, or Chicago's Wicker Park."

Sociologist Christopher Mele, who teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo, says the presence of a cool, creative scene can make an iffy neighborhood attractive to the wealthy or middle class -- and therefore, to developers.

That explains how a pair of stylish new townhomes, on the market for more than $2 million each, have arisen right next door to the $300-a-month apartment that retiree Susanne Chilton rents in the One Venice building. Even on Social Security, Chilton can afford her tiny apartment, with its expansive ocean view: "I love it and I never want to leave it, if I can help it," she says.

But it may not be up to her. One Venice is one of a number of buildings in the community that were developed with low-cost loans from the federal government, as part of its so-called Section 8 program. In exchange for government aid, the developers promised to provide affordable homes for the poor, elderly or disabled for at least 20 years. The tenants pay 30 percent of their incomes in rent, and the government picks up the rest of what it considers a "fair" rent.

But the owner of One Venice decided to pay off his mortgage early, get out of the Section 8 program, and "rent those ocean view apartments for a bundle," Jaffe reports. The city took him to court, saying he didn't give tenants enough notice. Meanwhile, residents of One Venice have been in limbo.

Their predicament is not unusual in Venice. So far, about 60 Section 8 apartments have been lost. More than 300 others are, like One Venice, at risk. And while the Section 8 program also provides vouchers to individuals that they can then use to rent an apartment in any building, Los Angeles housing official Steve Renehan says most Venice apartments are now too expensive for vouchers holders to afford even with the government help. "Since the market tightened up in L.A. over the past few years," Renehan says, "I now have half as many Section 8 families living in Venice as I did three years ago."

Sheila Bernard heads the tenant's association at Lincoln Place, 52 small apartment buildings with modestly-priced, rent-controlled apartments a mile from the beach. About a year ago, Bernard says, all the Section 8 voucher holders were among the dozens of tenants evicted because the landlord wanted to renovate. Only one building was ever renovated, however, out of six that were gutted.

In one building that has been renovated, apartments now rent for more than $2,500 a month. And while the landlord's attorney did not return calls seeking comment on his latest plan, Jaffe says it calls for tearing down all the modest Lincoln Place buildings and developing luxury condos.

Tenant activist Bernard says she and neighbors will fight that plan. "It was always OK to live in Venice no matter who you were," she says. "And that should be preserved."

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