It takes A Village: Revolutionary New Community Coming to LA
Devorah Talia Gordon
Perhaps you’ve seen the large sign up in the heart of Pico-Robertson announcing The Village, a first-of-its-kind project about to be launched in LA. A six-story apartment building and community center for adults that have intellectual and developmental disabilities, The Village is a project of the non-profit Cornerstone Housing for Adults with Disabilities. “It is designed for those who are capable of fairly independent living, but require some support to achieve their goals,” saidDr. Michael Held, Cornerstone’s executive director and executive director of ETTA, the catalyst for the vision of The Village.
Since 1993, with Dr. Held at its helm, ETTA has served the I/DD community, the largest agency of its kind in Southern California. As the years passed, Dr. Held and his staff found that while families could meet many of their children’s needs when they were young, they were often frightened about the future and long-term support. Now, ETTA serves adults, age 18 and over, with a wide range of programs supporting 150 clients every day, and a 12-million-dollar operating budget. “I am blessed to have a career where I do what I love,” said Dr. Held, “and have learned so much from families and clients. Each step of the way, we created new programs, hearing from families what they needed and wanted.”
ETTA’s programs fall under two umbrellas, addressing the fundamental questions, “Where do you live?” and, “What do you do?” The Village seeks to be an answer to these two questions, an evolution from ETTA’s existent housing and day programs and a response to the upsurge in those who have autism. “While some are lower and some are higher functioning, with a wide range of strengths, their primary requirement is housing. Not just real estate, but in the community, a place that can enable young adults who have interests and abilities.” ETTA started thinking about such a community five years ago, and in the past three years The Village went from dream to reality.
While Dr. Held knows of only four such communities like The Village nationwide, what makes The Village unique is its urban location, imbedded in a Jewish neighborhood. “People have the inspiration, but to afford it they purchase land in less expensive areas. The Board wanted this very much to be in the Jewish community. It has required a commitment to raise more, and the purpose is to be part of the community.” The state-of-the-art project will cost 50-million dollars; 12 of the 18-million-dollar capital campaign has already been raised.
Pico was the natural location for The Village, as ETTA clients have a strong community connection already with Shabbatonim; engagement with YULA, residents and rabbanim; and clients working at stores and restaurants. The Village is intended to be inclusive, giving residents ample opportunity to interact with the broader community, and vice versa. It’s not surprising that construction of the beautiful building was unanimously approved, which will feature 64 studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartments above 9,400 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and a 55-car basement garage.
The theme of The Village is empowerment, the residents will help define and develop The Village into what they want it to be. Dr. Held explained that the I/DD population thrives – just like all people — with stimulation, tasks to do, when they feel needed and purposeful. Therefore, the retail space will employ people with special needs as part of their staff. The second floor will double as a community center and dining room for up to 150 people, including a coffee bar. The laundry room will be significantly larger than most, to teach clients skills, with a full-size cafeteria for cooking classes. There will also be a fitness center, and there is ample space for Shabbatonim, special guest lectures open to the community, and the like.
About 10-15 units will be dedicated to neurotypical people, which will add to inclusive nature of the project. Dr. Held envisions these housing graduate students, or those who have sibling with I/DD, people who are idealistic and like The Village’s mission, perhaps volunteering with a possibility of rent abatement. While there is a no official waiting list yet, a “tremendous amount of interest” has already been sparked, including ETTA clients and interest from those in other cities. Eight units will be designated for low-income; the remainder will be a market-rate approach.
Due to Covid, the timeline has slowed; demolition is slated to occur in November with building commencing in the spring and the project completing in June 2024. Major donors include Hendel and Eric Schwartz (who is also project treasurer, and the Schwartz family has been connected to ETTA for many years); Nancy and Jonathan Glaser, George and Irina Schaeffer, Kam and Lily Babaoff, Peter and Andrea Roth, Alan and Barbara Gindi, and Judah z”l and Astrid Hertz.