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The Downtown Shadow: Fellows get a first-hand look at hazardous housing

The Downtown Shadow: Fellows get a first-hand look at hazardous housing

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Behind the construction projects surrounding the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, affordable housing is hard to come by. There were three apartment buildings in the block just north of the stadium, between Georgia and Figueroa Streets, but in the last year, tenants from two of the buildings were forced to move when the buildings were condemned. Which appears to be just fine by owner, Frank McHugh. As the downtown revitalization project progresses, the land where the buildings sit is more valuable to sell than to developers than to rent to low-income families.

National Health Journalism Fellows visited the one remaining building, a run-down property painted in a pasty pink and mint green. The three-story building is about 100 years old with about 35 units. One-bedroom and single units rent for about $800 per month, according to Roberto Bustillo, a tenant organizer for Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), who led the group of fellows. The building is plagued by cockroaches and rodents, caused by dampness from leaky pipes, he said. [For a primer on hazardous housing, see the last post in The Fellowships Blog.]

Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, said that she looks at the building and worries that dust from lead paint, exposed wiring and damp spots on the walls are health hazards to residents. "How this passed the code inspection is beyond me," she told the fellows.

One resident showed fellow Julio Cesar Ortiz the bedbugs and parasites that infested his apartment. Ortiz, a special assignment reporter at the Spanish-language station Univision Los Angeles, will be following up on the story of the apartment building. He said the trip was a reminder not to wait too long to cover stories about vulnerable populations. The challenges of covering the recession and health care reform can be overwhelming, allowing us to forget about these kinds of stories he says. "But the Fellowship reminds us that the vulnerabilities are always present and we cannot forget for too long."

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