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High-rises are coming to new downtown LA neighborhoods — and homeless advocates aren't happy

Jay Martinez via Flickr
Developers are venturing deeper into the Fashion District, which has been overlooked in favor of South Park and the Arts District. The construction is raising concerns among homeless advocates.

The downtown Los Angeles building boom is spreading into neighborhoods that haven't seen new construction in years — and some homeless advocates aren't happy with the move.

The 35-story Perla skyscraper in the Historic Core, the biggest new residential development to hit the neighborhood in a century, marked its groundbreaking this week.

Meanwhile, plans are moving ahead for the tallest-ever skyscraper in the Fashion District. 

Rena Leddy, executive director of the Fashion District's Business Improvement District, said developers have bypassed the neighborhood for years in favor of South Park and the Arts District. 

"There’s sort of this hole where the Fashion District is, where development hasn’t occurred as quickly and so the project is potentially the start of that," Leddy said.  

The 33-story Fashion District project on Seventh and Maple won a key approval from the City Planning Commission last week. It's headed for a hearing before the City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee.

Jessica Lall, president and CEO of the Central City Association, said the Fashion District project and Perla represent developers' continued interest in downtown. 

Lall said the development of the Fashion District will help make downtown a more cohesive community, where neighborhoods buzz with activity, even after the workday.

"We want no dead space downtown," Lall said. "We want it to be a walkable community, and in order for it to be walkable we need to activate all parts of all streets."

But homeless advocates say that downtown development is encroaching into areas with a concentration of single-room occupancy hotels and homeless encampments. 

Steve Diaz of the Los Angeles Community Action Network is particularly worried about the new Fashion District project, which is located near Skid Row.  

"People who come are not going to want to live next to poor people," Diaz said. "It’s going to create tension, which is going to bring more police, which is going to push out the homeless."

The new developments often include a percentage of low-income housing. Homeless advocates say that doesn't come close to filling the need for the more than 30,000 people who live on the city's streets. 

The Perla development, which replaces a one-story retail building, doesn't include housing specifically for low-income households. A consultant on the project, Hamid Behdad, said that units will be priced affordably for younger, first-time buyers. 

Behdad said the Chinese developer of Perla, SCG America, was excited to be part of the redevelopment of Broadway and the rest of the city’s historic core. For the most part, developers have been choosing to convert the neighborhood’s historic buildings into residential housing.  

The projects are being developed as downtown vacancies have been rising, leading landlords to offer deals on rents and parking.

Leddy isn't worried about the area's 12 percent vacancy rate — the highest since 2000, according to real estate research firm CoStar Group. Leddy said brand new apartment buildings will have high vacancy rates initially as leasing agents work to fill them.

"You can't move all those people at the same time," Leddy said. "It doesn't mean there isn't demand."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the number of homeless in LA. KPCC regrets the error.