By Dorany Pineda
While affordable housing in Los Angeles dominates much of today’s discourse, a local nonprofit was having the conversations back in the late 1980s.
A Community of Friends, founded in 1988, was the first agency to successfully execute affordable housing throughout Los Angeles County. Specifically, the organization became one of the few to provide homeless people and families living with mental illness — including those with major depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress –– with inexpensive housing.
The idea was simple: to provide housing that wasn’t time limited, but instead offered people their own apartment leases and insert services in the building to help them live independently.
Years later –– after this model became what’s now known as permanent supportive housing –– founder Tanya Tull was asked why she named the organization what she did, and she told Dora Gallo that she wanted “to create a community where people who have normally been disenfranchised can feel like they’re among friends,” Gallo, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, remembered.
And, rather than segregating these living spaces, the board decided to integrate them within residential areas.
“[The board] made a conscious decision not to build in Skid Row and instead focus on communities where people come from,” Gallo said. Now, the organization has apartment buildings in Hollywood, Koreatown, the San Fernando Valley, Orange County, Central City west and South Los Angeles, with expansions happening in Ventura.
But this supportive housing model is doing more than just getting people off the streets, Gallo said.
“By doing so, we lessen the burden on our public systems like police and fire and hospitals” and, she argued, reduced recidivism rates.
“Having a place to live really helps someone get a stable footing to live a better life with more opportunities,” Gallo said.
And affordability is also critical to stable lives. That’s why the nonprofit works to secure rental subsidies. If a tenant is income qualified, Gallo said, they only have to pay 30 percent of their income in rent, which is the recommended amount a person should be paying for housing.
“That makes it a lot easier for them. If there’s economic relief, then they can start focusing on their mental health and other issues and not have to worry about the impact of trying to pay rent,” Gallo said.
Once a tenant moves into the building, they are a assigned a caseworker who helps him or her develop a plan to achieve their goals, be it reuniting with family members, going back to school or finding a better job.
Inside the apartment buildings, tenants also can take advantage of free classes the organization offers. People can learn about nutrition, healthy eating, housekeeping, budgeting, anger management and much more.
And that’s what one tenant did. A single mother of two, she took advantage of the free classes the organization offered, including one on pursuing higher education goals. She eventually enrolled in community college, started volunteering, worked on her mental health, and got a Section 8 certificate.
The daily support she received from A Community of Friends allowed her to find her own footing, and she recently moved out with her children into a home of their own,
But Gallo emphasized that not every one of the 2,600 people it houses becomes independent of the nonprofit’s services, and that’s OK.
The overall goal, Gallo said, “is to do more, helping more people and ending homelessness for a lot more people” with more programs, more affordable housing units and more support services.
CEO: Dora Gallo
Years in operation: 30
Annual budget: $7 million
Number of employees: 80
Location: 3701 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, 90010