The buildings of a housing association for the homeless are in ruins. Intervention on city plans.

The rundown condition of the Sanborn Hotel apartments is apparent from the sidewalk. Holes have been smashed in the wire-reinforced windows of its facade doors. And one of the latches doesn’t work, leaving the building open to intruders, who roam the hallways at night twisting doorknobs, trying to enter open apartments.

Inside, a rancid smell permeates the hallways, imploring Lysol. The principal’s office is dark and empty, as residents have said since the the last occupant left last summer. In bathroom #2 on the second floor, there is no water in the toilet but a lot of human waste.

James Porter, right, at the Sanborn Hotel Apartments in Los Angeles

Longtime tenant James Porter, 75, right, complains about dirty floors and an unsafe environment in apartments at the Sanborn Hotel.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

The Sanborn is one of 29 buildings owned by the Skid Row Housing Trust, a non-profit organization that has been a model of homeless housing for over 30 years. But the very model that helped revive some of the oldest downtown hotels is bringing it down.

Earlier this year, trust leaders revealed mounting financial shortfalls that made it impossible to maintain these buildings. Their solution, guided by the Los Angeles Department of Housing, was to hand over the entire portfolio to other housing organizations, a process that, at best, would take months of difficult negotiations.

Conditions at Sanborn, observed last week by The Times, show a much more pressing crisis.

The trust’s chief executive and acting chief of staff, Joanne Cordero, said in a statement that she was confident the plan remained feasible.

“We continue to focus on transitioning our properties to providers who are willing and able to provide continued housing and services to our residents,” she said. “We are inspired by our staff who work tirelessly to keep properties and services available for the most vulnerable people in our city. We believe that with adequate funding and the support of key public and private stakeholders, we can successfully transition properties. »

But the city housing officials acknowledged in an interview that the Sanborn and other trust buildings are in a state of distress that calls for immediate intervention.

Ann Sewill, chief executive of the Los Angeles Department of Housing, said she would ask the city council for permission to exercise the city’s power as creditor to take control of at least some of the city’s buildings. trust and provide security and management as required.

Sewill said his staff realized the urgency by taking an inventory of the trust’s buildings to document their financial and physical condition for potential future owners.

What they found, Sewill said, suggested the trust was so short of cash and staff that day-to-day oversight of its buildings was collapsing, a condition exemplified by the Sanborn.

The only watch was a young man standing on the sidewalk outside. He wore a jacket with the emblem of a contract security company. Residents said he was the janitor and complained he was not doing his job.

Jarian Jovan Banks, kneeling, is seen through a broken glass panel of an exit door at the Sanborn Hotel Apartments.

When Jarian Jovan Banks, 44, moved into the Sanborn Hotel Apartments in 2016, he said, “there was a receptionist there. There wasn’t much foot traffic. But now “it’s bad to the point where I don’t feel safe”.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Jarian Jovan Banks, who has lived in the building since 2016, said it was different when he moved in.

“There was an office worker,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic. You felt safe. Now that’s bad. It’s bad to the point where I don’t feel safe.

Kris Trattner, co-owner of the Nickel Diner next to the Sanborn, said he has seen a steady escalation in problems since the former manager’s departure.

“I’ve been dealing with scum on the street for 14 years, so I know how to play that,” she said. “But he’s been brought up for the last six months.”

Trattner said she knows several women who chose to leave the building because they felt unsafe. “Non-residents are walking the hallways shaking their doors trying to get in,” she said.

Banks said he was involved in an altercation about a month ago when the fire alarm went off at night. Residents found the kitchen full of smoke and an intruder sat on a couch in the dark as something burned on the stove.

“Why don’t you just turn off the burner so the fire alarm doesn’t go off?” Banks asked. “He doesn’t live there and he doesn’t care.”

Thirteen of the Sanborn’s 41 units were declared uninhabitable by the City of Los Angeles Housing Authority after tenants moved out.

Residents said they have little contact with case managers and that some tenants cause problems for others. On the third floor, behind a door ajar with a roll of toilet paper, a young man looked up from a mattress on the floor, unable to make his way through his tiny bedroom through a pile of waist-high objects, with a bicycle on it. the top .

The Sanborn, in the 500 block of South Main Street, is one of the trust’s first acquisitions and probably its most problematic building. But it is not the only one in crisis. Tenants of two other buildings have filed lawsuits alleging uninhabitable conditions.

In mid-February, the apartments at the Dewey Hotel, two blocks south of Sanborn, came under scrutiny from housing officials after rainwater seeping through its roof caused mold. Then a fire broke out on the second floor. The Housing Authority moved the remaining 22 residents to vacant units in other trust buildings. The Los Angeles Fire Department is investigating the fire as arson.

Due to a recent fire, Dewey Hotel Apartments closed and closed.

The Dewey Hotel Apartments, another Skid Row Housing Trust property, has been red-tagged and condemned since mold was discovered and a fire broke out there last month.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

But the red-tagged and barricaded Dewey is not entirely unoccupied, housing officials said. The squatters found a way in through the Senator Hotel, another trust building next door.

The Dewey, built in 1911, and the Sanborn, 1908, reflect the challenge of maintaining properties that are both old and outdated, designed on the early 20th century hotel model of tiny rooms and shared bathrooms and kitchens . The Sanborn was renovated in 1992 with tax credit financing involving outside investors with a financial interest in keeping the building in good condition. But those investors left the project after about 15 years, leaving the trust as the sole owner with long-term loans owed to the city and state.

Twelve of the trust’s 29 buildings fall into this category, said Daniel Huynh, deputy director general of the housing department.

Their age, poor condition and lack of equity investors make them unattractive to other housing organizations that are being asked to take over the trust’s portfolio.

In recent years, the trust has expanded its portfolio with new builds that have brought striking architectural facades to the row of skids and provided more up-to-date floor plans with individual bathrooms.

PATH, a homeless service provider and statewide housing developer, is one of the organizations evaluating whether it can take over one of the trust’s buildings. Executive Director Jennifer Hark Dietz said PATH is considering 11 buildings, but only newer ones that still have equity investors.

Even these new buildings can be disrupted by mechanical and human failures.

“We would need capital and operating funds to ensure the building was operating at a level of habitability,” Hark Dietz said. “It’s not clear on these sites where the money would come from.”

Yolanda Cunningham Smith sits in a chair with her walker in front of her.

Yolanda Cunningham Smith, 67, says she was confined to her room on the fifth floor of 649 Lofts, a Skid Row Housing Trust property, for two weeks when the lifts broke down.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Yolanda Cunningham Smith, a Navy veteran whose arthritis and nerve damage prevent her from getting up from her chair, said she was trapped for more than two weeks on the fifth floor of one of the new buildings of the trust, the 649 Lofts, after the elevator broke down.

The building has a manager, a concierge and a uniformed security guard. But its location in the heart of a disadvantaged neighborhood puts its management under pressure.

“At night there is no security,” Smith said.

As she was locked in her apartment one night, she said, the fire alarm kept ringing. Each time, a strobe light flashed in his room and the public address system instructed him to evacuate and not use the elevator.

“It was a new building when I moved in,” she said. “I wouldn’t even have imagined this at all,” Smith said, adding that the elevator had broken multiple times.

After spending 16 days in her room, Smith said Thursday that the elevator had been fixed Wednesday night and she could return to work as a tax analyst for H&R Block.

Intruders are also common at 649 Lofts.

“The other day I went to the garbage chute,” Smith said. “I opened the door. There was someone in the room. They were hitting the pipe.

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