How LA's School District is Turning Disused Land into Low-Cost Housing

October 1, 2015
In a city where affordable rents are in short supply, Los Angeles schools are partnering with developers to build low-cost housing targeted at substitute teachers, bus drivers and maintenance workers

In a freeway-lined corner of the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena, where modest ranch-style homes and shopping malls dominate, the sleek modern architecture of Sage Park Apartments bursts through the drabness. The jutting rooflines and stylish grey, red and rust-orange panelling make the 90-unit complex seem more like a misplaced version of the luxury condos of downtown LA, 15 miles to the north, than what it really is: subsidised, affordable housing.

If the architecture is unlikely, the organisation behind the project is even more surprising. Sage Park is the first housing development undertaken by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has begun partnering with housing developers to build affordable housing specifically targeted at LAUSD employees – including bus drivers, maintenance workers and substitute teachers. In a city where affordable rents are in short supply, it’s an effort to provide the district’s lowest-income workers with more options.

Rafiqua Baker, a special education teacher’s aide at a school in the city’s Watts neighbourhood, moved into Sage Park in March from Compton, where her three-year-old daughter couldn’t play outside without encountering drug users. “It was rough over there,” she says. “I don’t like to call them crackheads, but that’s what they were.” Now her daughter can play outside in the complex’s on-site playground without having to be driven to a park. “I love it here,” Baker adds.

Not everyone is quite as impressed, however. “Yeah, I like it, but it should have had a pool,” says Janiya Johnson, a nine-year-old resident swinging on one of the outdoor pull-up bars.

Built on excess land adjacent to Gardena High School, Sage Park’s one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are available to people making between 30 and 60% of the area’s median income, which ranges from $16,541 to $49,800 (£10,900 to £32,800) for a four-person household. Since taking in its first residents earlier this year, the complex is now fully rented (monthly rents are between $425 and $1,222), and nearly 6,000 more LAUSD employees have signed on to its waiting list. “We won’t have to spend anything on marketing for a while,” says Donna Hess, Sage Park’s property manager. ...