Approximately five years after the completion of the Las Brisas affordable-housing community in Signal Hill, programs offered at the site are still succeeding in improving the lives of the people who live there. The project was developed in two phases under the auspices of Los Angeles-based Abode Communities with funding from the now-defunct Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency, as well as financial assistance from other public and private sector entities.
According to Robin Hughes, president of Abode Communities, Las Brisas contains approximately 160 rental units, varying in size and number of bedrooms. She was not able to provide the population of the community.
Hughes explained the process a person or a family must go through to move into a Las Brisas apartment. “Because of the funding sources that we used to build the property, we do require that households are income-eligible before we place them on our waiting list,” she said. “We are serving individuals and families who are at 30 percent of median income up to about 60 percent of median income. That means that a family of four that’s earning from $20,000 to about $45,000 per year would qualify.”
Hughes also noted that before an individual or family is placed on the waiting list, Abode Communities checks their credit and previous rental history. “We want to make sure that people get into affordable housing and are able to keep it over time,” she said.
Valarie Williams-Siler, Abode Communities director of resident services, noted that the organization also has a department that helps residents overcome obstacles in their lives. “Abode Communities Beyond Homes serves low-income families along with the special-needs population consisting of the formerly homeless, survivors of domestic violence and HIV/AIDS victims,” she said.
According to Williams-Siler, Beyond Homes offers the following programs at Las Brisas: on-site case management provides referrals, workshops and other services to help residents find employment, job training, and resources for other issues in their lives; on-site child care is available to residents and the surrounding communities; parents pay a minimal, income-based fee for the services, which are only available to parents who are working, seeking employment, or enrolled in a job-training program; KIDZ Club is an on-site recreational program for children ages 5 to 10; the Steps Toward Educational Preparedness program is offered to high-school students from 9th to 12th grades; it prepares students for college entrance exams and teaches them how to apply for the financial aid they will need to advance their education; the on-site computer lab is available for use at different hours for adults and youth, providing computer classes for all ages and provides job-search assistance to adults; GED and English-as-a-second-language distant learning classes are held every Tuesday evening at the Las Brisas One Community Center through the Gardena/Carson Adult School; the Senior Joyful Hour (which includes games, prizes, refreshments and field trips) at the Las Brisas Two Community Center happens every Monday afternoon and is available to Las Brisas residents who are 55 years old and up; and the residents’ meeting takes place the third Wednesday of every month at the Las Brisas Two Community Center, giving residents the opportunity to discuss issues and concerns.
“We also have a scholarship program within our organization,” Hughes said. “We provide scholarships to the high-school seniors who live at one of the Abode Communities and are getting ready to go to college.” She explained that each year three students get the scholarship, which guarantees they will receive $2,500 every year for the four years they are attending college. She added that the scholarship money comes from individual and corporate donations.
Hughes noted that several nonprofit organizations also provide services to Las Brisas residents. “For example, Goodwill Industries brings a workforce development team to Las Brisas occasionally to help people find employment or training that will enable them to find a job,” she said. “The Urban League also sends people to Las Brisas to help residents with career and job development, and we have a host of other service partners that come out periodically and deliver services to Las Brisas residents on site.”
In addition, the residents have the benefit of having a park a short walk away from their front door. Calbrisas Park is a City of Signal Hill park, which is open to the public but located on the campus of Las Brisas. “It’s great to have the park there,” Hughes said. “It’s part of the recreational opportunities available to Las Brisas residents. I love to go there and see the kids having fun in the playground.”
The City of Signal Hill Department of Parks and Recreation also offers drop-in, after-school recreational programs for children who are six to 12 years old, as well as recreational programs and outings for teens.
To top it off, the Signal Hill Police Department maintains a substation in the Las Brisas complex. A police officer works in the office there at intermittent hours Monday through Friday. “The police have built a very strong relationship with the kids there,” Hughes said. “The residents view the police as protecting them from criminals, and the strong police presence discourages outsiders from trying to make trouble.”
Hughes noted that before Las Brisas was developed, the site was occupied by dilapidated buildings, which housed drug dealers and other types of criminals. “The physical environment has been completely transformed from a blighted community to attractive buildings that families can now proudly call their homes,” she said. “And there is not anywhere near the same level of criminal activity that was there before Las Brisas. I can only think of one major incident that happened there. That was a shooting that involved a non-resident who was visiting Las Brisas.”
Williams-Siler added that Abode Communities monitors the success of its programs by communicating with the residents. “In our efforts to provide ongoing quality services, we solicit feedback from our residents, using surveys to assess needs,” she said. “In the survey conducted in August of this year, we received responses from 31 households, and the majority of them were happy with the current structure of services provided.” Williams-Siler acknowledged, however, that residents responding to the survey did ask for more tutoring and homework assistance to help improve their children’s grades.
“Las Brisas has been a real success,” Hughes concluded. “Our goal is to simply maintain the buildings the grounds and the programs that we have there, which have worked so well over the past few years.”
Las Brisas is located on California Avenue, about one block south of Willow Street.