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New Affordable Housing Projects Prove We Can Tackle Homelessness Crisis

A mix of short-term and permanent residencies can help quickly house some of LA’s most vulnerable residents.

Artist rendering of the EcoHood site. (CONCEPT ART: Los Angeles Community Action Network.)

In what could signal a paradigm shift in how Los Angeles addresses the homeless crisis, two separate experiments that aim to build housing quicker and cheaper have sprung up in South Central LA and on Vignes Street downtown.

Both the EcoHood and Vignes Street developments benefited from cutting-edge modular construction techniques and unique circumstances that allowed for cutting costs and a more expedient construction timeframe. The bulk of the Vignes Street funding came from the Federal CARES Act emergency pandemic relief program, which meant that the project received advantageous speed and cost considerations as well as exemptions from environmental and competitor bidding review. It also received the support of the county’s efficiency-oriented Public Works Department. Vignes Street rose on a 4-acre county-owned parcel and EcoHood broke ground on a privately-donated lot, giving the projects a huge leg-up considering LA’s sky-high land costs.

Combining permanent and temporary structures, the Vignes St. complex’s two main buildings are constructed of reclaimed shipping containers with 132 units of permanent housing. The 20 adjacent trailers — divided into five units each — are for interim housing. A 6,000-square-foot administrative building adds offices, dining facilities, laundry and support services. The cost per bed of $206,000 is less than half the going rate for affordable housing in the city.


Artist rendering of the EcoHood site. (CONCEPT ART: Los Angeles Community Action Network.)

The Los Angeles Community Action Network’s 30-bed EcoHood sustainable housing development in South Central pairs micro homes with solar power and other energy performance features. Funded from non-public sources, the Skid Row-based nonprofit’s property spotlights two prominent home building trends: downsizing and climate consciousness. Each of the 400-square-feet one- and two-bedroom residences includes a bathroom with shower, fully-equipped kitchen, living area and covered porch. Landscaped common areas and urban farming space will, ideally, help build a sense of community. The cost per bed is $100,000.

EcoHood is being financed by various private sources, including a virtual fundraiser hosted by W. Kamau Bell — producer and host of CNN’s Emmy-winning docuseries United Shades of America — as well as grants, donations and crowdsourcing. LA CAN’s EcoHood funding campaign is an ongoing effort to provide stable and dignified housing for the city’s most vulnerable residents.


Members of the LA CAN team at the EcoHood project site. (PHOTO: Los Angeles Community Action Network.)

The overarching goal of the EcoHood pilot project is to create a template for converting surplus publicly-owned parcels into stable housing faster and cheaper, while maintaining a green footprint.

The debut of game-changing projects such as EcoHood and Vignes Street indicates that 2021 could be the year our elected leaders close ranks and take transformative action to address homelessness. Indeed, if city and county officials continue to innovate and share best practices, they might discover that homelessness is not such an intractable problem after all.