Thursday, June 20, 2024

SGV Habitat for Humanity is buying 710 freeway homes in El Sereno, with plans to fix up and sell

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More than 60 years after they were planned to be the site for a now-defunct 710 freeway extension north to the 210, the California Department of Transportation has sold the first El Sereno homes in the footprint of the now-nixed project — though not everyone in the neighborhood is celebrating.

State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, and Habitat for Humanity officials joined business and community leaders in El Sereno Friday, May 17, announcing the sale of the first two homes to the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity, which plans to rehabilitate and sell them for no more than $225,000.

Backdropped by the first sale — a vacant, boarded up home on the 3000 block of Sheffield Avenue in Los Angeles — SGV Habitat CEO Bryan Wong acknowledged it’s only the first step in getting the homes out of the state’s hands, but said its an important milestone.

“In a very, very short period of time, this is going to be a new home for a new family,” Wong said. “It’s not just a home, it’s a future, it’s a cornerstone. It’s something that is going to change lives not just for that family, but it also goes to improve entire neighborhoods, the livelihoods of businesses in the area and everything in the area.”

The El Sereno neighborhood is dotted with similar empty homes, kept secure with plywood and cardboard in their windows and doors, although not all are Caltrans-owned properties. For decades, while the freeway project faced opposition from residents and environmental groups, the properties purchased by Caltrans in preparation were left to languish and fall into disrepair. Some remained occupied by renters. Others stood vacant for years.

The freeway project remained in limbo until it was officially canned in 2018, but even after some residents said the neglected properties became a center for crime. To help expedite the sale process, in 2021 Durazo authored Senate Bill 51, which among other provisions lays out the process and prioritization for whom the homes should be sold to.

“You can only imagine that after 60 years of abuse and neglect, I know the levels of anger, frustration, and fears exist in this community where I have resided in,” Durazo told the crowd of about three dozen. “Today we embark on an incredible milestone for this community.”

The bill prioritized selling properties first to current occupants who were the former homeowners, at fair market price.

That’s followed by selling at an affordable price to previous single-family home occupants with two-plus years of residency who earn up to 120% of the area median income, as well as previous single-family homes occupants with five-plus years of residency who earn up to 150% of the area median income.

Then, present tenants in good standing with five or more years of occupancy will get a shot at purchasing the surplus homes at fair market value. Next up are approved housing-related entities, such as SGV Habitat, followed by current tenants in good standing and former tenants in good standing. And finally, any properties left would go to public auction.

  • A group representing Reclaiming Our Homes rallied outside the San...

    A group representing Reclaiming Our Homes rallied outside the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity’s press conference announcing plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. ROH says they want to work closely with SGV Habitat to ensure affordable housing for families in need. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • State Senator Maria Elena Durazo speaks during San Gabriel Valley...

    State Senator Maria Elena Durazo speaks during San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity’s press conferencing announcing their plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity CEO, Bryan Wong, speaks...

    San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity CEO, Bryan Wong, speaks during a press conference announcing the organization’s plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • The San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity announced their plans...

    The San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity announced their plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • A group representing Reclaiming Our Homes rallied outside the San...

    A group representing Reclaiming Our Homes rallied outside the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity’s press conference announcing plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. ROH says they want to work closely with SGV Habitat to ensure affordable housing for families in need. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • The San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity announced their plans...

    The San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity announced their plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. SGV Habitat says they will close escrow on two of the properties soon, and begin work immediately after. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • State Senator Maria Elena Durazo speaks during San Gabriel Valley...

    State Senator Maria Elena Durazo speaks during San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity press conferencing announcing their plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • A group representing Reclaiming Our Homes rallied outside the San...

    A group representing Reclaiming Our Homes rallied outside the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity’s press conference announcing plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. ROH says they want to work closely with SGV Habitat to ensure affordable housing for families in need. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity CEO, Bryan Wong, speaks...

    San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity CEO, Bryan Wong, speaks during a press conference announcing the organization’s plans to renovate single-family homes in El Sereno that were originally purchased by Caltrans to clear a path for the 710 freeway and sell them to low-income families, in El Sereno on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

However, that order has angered many current and former neighborhood residents like Tina Moreno, who was among about a dozen protesters across the street from the event claiming not enough is being done to keep long-time tenants like her in their homes.

Moreno lived at the very house sold to SGV Habitat for nearly 20 years until 2017. Her name is still etched in the backyard pavement cement. She claimed she was illegally evicted, which prevented her from being eligible to purchase her former home.

Protesters with Reclaiming Our Homes, a group that occupied the vacant homes during the pandemic, are asking that Habitat set aside 30% of all acquired homes for families facing deep affordability challenges.

“If the Reclaimers are evicted this will again tear up the community’s social and cultural fabric,” Moreno said.

SGV Habitat has committed to setting aside half of the houses acquired to prioritize families that currently live and work in El Sereno.

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