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Housing project now just for vets CONTROVERSY: Groups still angry over loss of several medical buildings.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer

NORTH HILLS - A controversial agreement to create affordable apartments for the homeless at the Sepulveda VA was changed this week so they will rent strictly to veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs amended its 75-year lease Tuesday with the proposed developer and manager of 147 low-rent apartments at its North Hills complex.

The updated agreement with A Community of Friends and New Directions was signed by VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and stipulates that housing, services and programs were to be provided "solely to eligible Veterans."

"This modification of the lease will remove any uncertainty on the part of the community and Veterans that this housing will be only for Veterans," Shinseki said in a statement. "These new facilities will ensure Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless have the permanent housing and supportive services they need."

The $40 million project, bitterly opposed by San Fernando Valley community and veterans groups, was originally open to nonvets because of fair housing laws.

It was halted last spring after a city zoning administrator refused to issue a zoning variance.

Backers of the apartments said that, despite the ruling, they will move forward with the project. By limiting it to vets only, they said the VA satisfies the primary objection to its development.

"It is great news," said Dora Leong Gallo, executive director of the Friends group. "We have been pushing for this. It really shows our continuing commitment to the community that this is for veterans only."

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, praised the VA decision, but said he would continue to oppose a project fought by so many of his constituents.

"I believe that medical care is the best use of the property," Sherman said in a statement. "Although this lease amendment deals with my No. 1 concern with the proposed housing development, I urge the parties to address the numerous other concerns the community has raised.

"We need to work to use the facility to provide expanded health care to Valley veterans."

Opponents cite 11 Los Angeles neighborhood councils and 662,000 residents and veterans across the state who officially oppose the project, including the state American Legion and Disabled American Veterans.

"I'm furious," said Peggy Burgess, land use chair for the North Hills West Neighborhood Council, of Shinseki's decision to update the 2007 lease. "I think it's absurd.

"This opposition is not (over) whether the apartments are for veterans only," she said. "The issue is the encroachment of private-sector development on veterans' land, and the conversion of badly needed medical buildings to 150 apartments."

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 15, 2009
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