BOYLE HEIGHTS, Calif. — A blighted strip of land next to the Metro Gold Line in Boyle Heights will soon be transformed into affordable housing. A joint development of Metro and the nonprofit developer A Community of Friends, Lorena Plaza will provide 32 units of permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness and another 16 units of affordable housing when construction is completed in early 2024.

“From the very beginning, our mission has been to end homelessness with permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities,” A Community of Friends President, Dora Leong Gallo, said during Lorena Plaza’s groundbreaking Thursday. “We know from our years of experience that people who have been homeless can live in an affordable home with onsite supportive services that wrap around their needs and regain the skills necessary to lead independent, productive lives.”

Lorena Plaza is a joint development between Metro and the nonprofit developer A Community of Friends. (Photo courtesy of A Community of Friends)

A Community of Friends already operates 43 apartment communities throughout LA and Orange Counties that provide supportive housing to over 2,500 people, 650 of whom are children. It has five additional projects in the works in South LA, Riverside, Ventura, Santa Ana and Boyle Heights. 

In development for more than a decade, Lorena Plaza had to overcome numerous hurdles. When it was first proposed in 2008, it was met with community opposition, Gallo said. After winning support from the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, the project was delayed by project and environmental approvals, then a lawsuit and, finally, the need to properly handle an abandoned oil well.

“It was one thing after another until all of a sudden we find ourselves here today,” Gallo said.

Lorena Plaza will include 32 units of permanent supportive housing and 16 units of affordable housing. (Photo courtesy of A Community of Friends)

As Los Angeles Housing Department General Manager Ann Sewill said during the groundbreaking, Lorena Plaza was supposed to be the second of 132 Prop HHH affordable housing projects in the city but delays have made it the 103rd

Boyle Heights needs 28,000 thousand units to meet housing demand, but only 22,000 are available, according to LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis. Seventy-five percent of the neighborhood’s residents are renters, many of whom “have multiple-generation households and are living in very dense conditions,” she said. “Affordability is the name of the game for all of us moving forward.”

The four-story Lorena Plaza apartment building will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments as well as 7,500 square feet of commercial space. Half of the units will be reserved for veterans who are either unhoused or low income. 

Ted Zapata is a Boyle Heights veteran who supports the Lorena Plaza project. (Spectrum News/Susan Carpenter).

“This project is yet another example of the important partnership between the city and LA Metro building more affordable and supportive housing in close proximity to transit,” said Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles Jose “Che” Ramirez. “Proposition HHH has been the key tool for realizing this goal.”

While Prop HHH has come under fire for not building enough units more quickly, Ramirez said it has made $1.2 billion available for construction funding and enabled the city to increase its annual production of supportive housing from 300 units a year to 2,000. The city is now on track to build over 180 projects with almost 13,000 new affordable and supportive housing units by 2026, he said. 

“I will say this for the hundredth time: HHH is working. These supportive units are long-term investments to ending homelessness in Los Angeles,” he said. “These units will provide a home and the services people need for many decades to come.”

More than a decade in the making, Lorena Plaza broke ground Thursday. (Spectrum News/Susan Carpenter)

There is a lot of need. Over 69,000 people in Los Angeles County experienced homelessness during the last count by the LA Homeless Services Authority this year — a 4% increase compared with 2020.

With eviction protections set to end and rents continuing to increase, that problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. The average monthly rent in Los Angeles is already $2,734 for a 791-square-foot space, according to Monthly rents are expected to increase $100, according to the new annual forecast from the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate released Thursday.

“Our unused land holdings are great places to build the affordable housing so many Angelenos need,” Metro Chief Executive Stephanie Wiggins said. “’We are intentional in how we want to use our land that’s available near our transit stops, so we’re doing just that.”

Wiggins said Metro’s goal is to facilitate housing developments where 100% of the leased units are affordable for extremely low, very low, lower and moderate-income individuals and families. So far this year, Metro has started construction on over 300 affordable housing units on its property. Already, over 2,000 affordable units have been built on Metro land.

In addition to Lorena Plaza, Metro is working on joint development affordable housing projects on four other Boyle Heights properties. It is exploring others on a former bus maintenance facility in Venice Beach, a transit station in El Monte and a former rail yard next to the Los Angeles River north of Elysian Park, among others.

“Every project like Lorena Plaza brings us closer to our goal of creating 5,000 transit-connected, affordable housing units on our land by 2031,” she said. “It’s really important we do this not only because we’re members of this community, but it is great synergy for connection with our transit, which is really a socioeconomic mobilizer.”