- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

LOS ANGELES

It’s been called “the skiddiest of all Skid Rows” — 50 square blocks of abandoned factories, burned-out storefronts, run-down hotels, dingy bars and seedy liquor stores, interspersed among hundreds of makeshift homes, most of them built with abandoned cardboard boxes and stolen shopping carts.

This last stop for the destitute has been a fixture of Los Angeles for nearly a century. But with a burgeoning real-estate market bringing luxury apartments and condos to the edge of Skid Row, city leaders are torn between letting gentrification roll over the area or trying to make it a more hospitable environment for people to get help with homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness and other troubles.

Among other measures:

• Police have conducted drug stings, making more than 5,000 arrests during the first three months of the year, including one in which actor Brad Renfro was caught trying to buy heroin.

• Authorities tried to keep thousands of people from sleeping on the streets, but a federal appeals court stopped the effort until the city provides enough beds for all its homeless.

• The City Council placed a yearlong moratorium on demolition of about 240 Skid Row flophouses while officials try to balance affordable-housing needs with the conversion of older buildings to apartments that can rent for more than $1,000 a month.

If all the projects under development are completed, the number of housing units in downtown could more than double to nearly 40,000 in five years.

Some of the estimated 14,000 homeless people in the area that folk singer Woody Guthrie called “the skiddiest of all Skid Rows” fear they could be shuffled off to the suburbs to make room for those projects. An ambitious plan by a group called Bring L.A. Home proposes the use of temporary shelters throughout Los Angeles County.

Steve Van Zile, an executive with the nonprofit SRO Housing Corp., which refurbishes old buildings and rents apartments for as little as $66 a month, said the housing boom worries his organization.

“Finding properties is always the issue for us,” he said. “It is getting harder and harder” as the price of real estate rises.

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