Jackie DuPont-Walker poses with resident Pablo Mateo and his family, alongside WEDC Board Chair Roland Wiley. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

Casa de Rosas, the expansive, new housing community led by Ward Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), held its third open house for Los Angeles veterans seeking long-term affordable housing on Thursday, July 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Located at 2600 Hoover Street, the 36-unit property is tucked between the Adams-Normandie and historic South Central neighborhoods in University Park, just down the street from USC and Exposition Park.

Imagine a house of roses – the English translation of the campus’s name – inside of which everything is nourished and grows regardless of what weeds and vines have been navigated in the past. Figuratively speaking, this is what WEDC intends to offer local, low-income vets who don’t know where else to turn.

The community’s breadth of accommodations include: 15 studios, 19 one-bedroom, and 2 two-bedroom units, all furnished; a Headstart Program with USC; on-site management; controlled entry; and several thoughtfully planned community spaces, such as a library, a computer lab, a quiet room, a courtyard, a laundry room, and a garden.

Jackie DuPont-Walker and Steve Wesson stand near the onsite daycare, where veterans with families can ensure their children get the care and educational support they need. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

WEDC President Jackie Dupont-Walker, an impressively “hands-on” advocate who was on site all day at the open house, observed, “People didn’t seem to believe it was real. So many times, they go [to events like this, and nothing happens], so they don’t get their hopes up.”

One attendee, Kelvin Berrman Harrison, a U.S. Army vet who says he does non-profit work for Rev. Jesse Jackson in Chicago, expressed similar frustration.

“I’ve tried every tactic and place you can name,” said Harrison. “Since I was a veteran, they told me, since they paid me so much money, I have to find my own place.”

Beyond the shelter Casa de Rosas provides, its range of services include life coaching that has already helped some of its residents secure gainful employment.’

Such was the case for Pablo Mateo, one of the first to move in with his family. They’d been in transitional housing, where it is customary to separate families by gender. With his wife pregnant, he lived in his car to be close to his loved ones for months, seeking solutions. He could not find work.

Jackie DuPont-Walker and Steve Wesson stand near the onsite daycare, where veterans with families can ensure their children get the care and educational support they need. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

After coming to Casa de Rosas, he was able to find a job with the aid of the campus’ attentive social workers, and reunite his family in a welcoming, new abode at the same time.

“It’s wonderful, beautiful; we have USC in our backyard,” Mateo gushed. “We love it here.”

Veterans at the open house take the first steps toward securing housing at Casa de Rosas. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

The mission to assist veterans with families emerged from a focus group WEDC assembled in their efforts to ensure they were addressing the pressing needs of veterans in the community.

Dupont-Walker explained, “The focus group had us look at single parent homeless vets, and we understood there’s a gap in veteran services, because many of them, when they were homeless with their kids, said they had to fly under the radar screen because they were afraid to go in and boldly say ‘I’m homeless with my kid’…they were afraid their kid would be snatched…They felt it ought to be something you could honorably do. And we agreed.”

This dovetailed with Councilman Curren Price’s aim to improve conditions for veterans, and the synergistic effort has been met with success. However, as of the time of Thursday’s open house, there were 16 vacancies, which need to be filled in short order.

Casa de Rosas’ architecture harkens back to its 19th century roots. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

“This open house was set in place because the remaining units must come from the Veteran’s Administration, and it wasn’t going fast enough,” Dupont-Walker shared. “We have a very short period after we complete construction to lease up, and it comes with a very strong penalty because of all the funding we have, so right now we’re in a crunch to get leased up.”

The open houses have made it much easier to get prospective residents approved in a timely fashion, as the VA has been screening on-site, making even same-day eligibility possible.

Having gone through this process, it is WEDC’s hope that future developments will experience a shorter and more seamless process by working directly with the Veteran’s Administration “so that people have hope,” Dupont-Walker pointed out.

Although it is impressive in its current incarnation, the revitalization of this building, which was previously a dormitory known as the Sunshine Mission, has required hope and endurance from the start, on the part of WEDC, as the project was first beset by city delays and then by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention, the building was in disrepair.

One of Casa de Rosa’s common spaces. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

Dupont-Walker recalls, “It was boarded up for 12 years. It was in bad shape. When they closed the Sunshine Mission, they were rooms with shared baths. There were no apartments.

We had to reconfigure that into 37 apartments, 36 for lease and the other one for resident management.”

WEDC was fortunate, however, to find the architect who had worked on Sunshine Mission’s rehabilitation some years before.

“He had the blueprints,” said Dupont-Walker. “He knew where the bones were. This was built in 1870. He’d done the research, made a huge difference.”

Other rewarding results of this journey include the impact of the restoration, not only on the veterans, but also on the community at large. The restoration utilized over 75% contractors and subcontractors who are minority- and women-owned, from the area within a 3- to 5-mile radius.

“We have businesses that could be stabilized. Some are doing business with the city for the first time, and so they’re able to now go on and do business in a larger way,” Dupont-Walker stated. “We believe in recycling opportunities and dollars in our community.”

The model studio features lots of light, and a view of the neighborhood. (Kimberly Shelby/L.A. Sentinel)

USC Village Ombudsman Steve Wesson was integral to that process, helping to connect WEDC with African-American and other minority businesses when the corporation was seeking contractors and small businesses to participate in construction. His team also helped spread the word to USC’s veteran networks.

“We believe in the historic nature of this building and we’re so delighted that when it was revitalized that it maintained the original spirit of the place and there weren’t dramatic changes,” Wesson said. “This is such an important part of Los Angeles, and as other developments come in and, perhaps, impact the character of this community, this is an institution that’s going to stay based on the original design.”

Wesson was in attendance at the open house, connecting with veterans who were referred by USC, facilitating introductions, and guiding tours of the facility and the location.

“They’ve done a beautiful job of bringing it back to life,” said Wesson. “It really adds to this corner, it adds to the community; it’s the old, classic, California architecture. Not only is it nice to see, it’s good to see all the vibrant activity that’s beginning to happen here and all of the families that are enriched by the opportunity to live here.”

Vets of all stripes are welcome at Casa de Rosas, and WEDC aims to provide shelter and resources for veterans with families – whether that is a vet whose child is in foster care, juvenile detention or the home of a relative.

“The story of the family is important,” Dupont-Walker emphasized. “We are really committed to making this a campus where families can come together, and where the adult can either find a job or find a career.”

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