At Pilipino Workers Center housing village, labor leader Larry Itliong’s legacy lives on

At Pilipino Workers Center housing village, labor leader Larry Itliong’s legacy lives on

ON the third floor of the Larry Itliong Village, an affordable housing building in Historic Filipinotown, a spacious courtyard boasts a view of Downtown LA’s skyline and paintings of the Philippine sun with extended rays.

It’s also the floor where the apartment of Maria*, 74, a Filipina tenant, can be found.

Maria has lived in the housing complex since 2014 — around the time the building opened its doors to tenants — and is the first time she has had her own apartment.

On the fifth floor, Noli Gerona, 59, lives in a one-bedroom unit with his 79-year-old mother.

From his window, the view isn’t quite what it is from the courtyard: he says he can see a pile of soil, other apartments and houses.

But Gerona has no complaints because prior to moving into the Village, he and his mother shared a rented room in a house. Additionally, half the cost of his unit is subsidized.

“Lucky naka pasok kami dito (We’re lucky we got into this place),” Gerona said.

“This [unit] is not really that big, but we’re really happy kasi ang ganda ng building (This [unit] is not really that big, but we’re really happy because the building is so beautiful),” he added.

A 10-year project

The Larry Itliong Village, located on the corner of Glendale Boulevard and Rockwood Street, is home to 44 low-income households. (A 45th unit is designated for the building manager.) The project is named after Fil-Am labor organizer Larry Itliong, who was among Filipinos who started the Delano Grape Strike in 1965, which set the foundation that led to the eventual creation of the United Farm Workers.

With Larry Itliong, a distinct name that cannot easily be confused with others, the housing building was named to bring visibility to both the Filipino community in Historic Filipinotown and the general community. But more importantly, the Village carries a name that seeks to uplift and honor Itliong’s legacy.

“This is a part of our legacy,” said Aquilina Soriano Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), a non-profit organization located on the first floor of the village that is dedicated to assisting workers and their families meet their immediate needs, and gain leadership skills that can be used toward action for change. “The United Farm Workers made some huge changes to the way labor laws were, and that’s a huge contribution of the Fil-Am community here.”

“At PWC, we’re inspired by all of the work that the farm workers did to come together, organize and really improve the conditions they were working and living in,” Versoza added.

It was PWC, along with the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) Community Development Corporation, that worked to develop the project. With an acquisition loan from the Local Initiative Support Corporation, the organization was able to secure and purchase the land in 2003. It took about 10 years from the start to completion of the building in 2013. It received funding from several sources, including federal, state and local grants; and the environmental cleanup fund.

By October 2013, the building was completed with five floors. There are a total of 45 units in the building, one of which is for the manager. Of the remaining 44, half are designated regular affordable housing for low- to moderate-income households, while the other 22 are for very low-income households who receive additional subsidies from the housing authority. Do you know what’s the occupancy rate right now?

Additionally, nine units are designated for transitional age youth.

On the first day that PWC began accepting applications for the housing units, Versoza said there were more than 2,000 received. The main criteria for selecting tenants were based on income levels and on if applicants were coming from a homeless or transitional housing situation.

With the high volume of applicants, a raffle system was implemented to assign each household a number. This determined the order in which applications were reviewed.

By November 2013, tenants began moving into the new units.

Housing features and characteristics

Each unit of the Larry Itliong Village offers tenants free gas, water and WiFi. They also come furnished with a dishwasher, microwave, stove, refrigerator and air conditioning.

Half of the low-cost units also come with beds, dining tables and sofa beds.

But one of the key aspects of the housing project is that it is the first to implement a lending circle program for security deposits. Because the deposits can be a barrier for people to get into the units, Versoza said, the program allows tenants to pay the amount throughout a one-year period.

In the five-story building, floors three to five are dedicated to residential units; the second floor is for parking; and on the first is where the PWC office is found.

Since the housing units are located above the office, tenants have access to a number of services on site. Among these include free tax preparation, food distribution, access to computers and workforce training (mostly geared toward caregiving).

One of the goals of the PWC, Versoza said, is to create a community among its tenants.

As part of that effort, the Village also offers activities for its tenants, such as Cinco de Mayo and Philippine Independence Day celebrations. Community rooms on the first floor also serve as spaces for Zumba classes and food distributions.

Tenants

According to Versoza, Latinos account for the biggest ethnic group residing in the housing building, followed by Asian Pacific Islanders, most of whom are Filipino. There are also transitional age youth (between 18 to 25 years old), who are emancipated foster youth and at-risk youth who come from a wide spectrum of situations; trafficking victims; and domestic violence survivors.

Each year, households in regular affordable housing units must go through a recertification process. Should a tenant’s income see an increase, the rent they pay will be adjusted.

A common thread for the tenants of the Larry Itliong Village is that moving into the facility resulted in a significant improvement in their living situations.

Among residents who have found a home in the Village is Blanca Medina, 28, a mother of four. Prior to moving into the affordable housing project, she lived in an East Los Angeles shelter where she and her kids had to share one bedroom, as well as share the bathroom and kitchen with other tenants. She also wasn’t allowed to have visitors or leave the shelter after 6 pm.

Having her own space, for which she pays 30 percent of her income, without having to share amenities in her unit with so many others, is one of the best parts of living in the Village, Medina says. She and her children have also made friends with other tenants just by living in the building and through communal housing activities.

Formerly homeless individuals have also found shelter in the facility, including Edith Uzohl, 58, who volunteers for PWC. After moving back to California from Tennessee for a job that ultimately did not work out, Uzohl ended up at Good Shepherd Center and then a transitional housing facility where she paid $400 a month to share a room.

Uzohl now lives in a one-bedroom unit that she’s in the process of furnishing, and having her own space is “lovely.” Getting to be by herself is what she likes best, although she also appreciates the privacy and security she has in her living space.

“[It’s great] knowing that when I put something down it’s not going to be stolen, because there was a lot of that going on in transitional housing,” she said.

The Larry Itliong Village is already at full capacity, but Gerona, the Filipino tenant on the fifth floor, said he wishes it could be extended to more individuals.

“I just wish more people could get something like this kasi talagang na-elevate and standard ng living namin (I just wish more people could get something like this because our standard of living really elevated),” he said.

[Editor’s note: *Maria’s name has been changed in this article to protect her identity.]

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