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Gateway at Willowbrook Combines Affordable Housing and a County Library in Los Angeles

Photograph of two façades of a five-story mixed-use building.
Photograph of an entrance to a multistory mixed-use building, with a wall sign near the door reading in part, “Willowbrook Library: LA County Library."
Photograph of the information desk and a sitting area in the foreground, with book stacks, tables, and computer stations in the background.
Photograph of the door of the workforce center, with job postings taped to the office window.
Photograph of a paved area with pergolas and seating within a landscaped courtyard framed by a multistory building.
Photograph of two computers for children, with a sitting area and book stacks in the background.
Photograph of an arched entrance to the residential component of a four-story building, with a wall sign over the entrance reading, “The Gateway at Willowbrook.”


Home >Case Studies >Gateway at Willowbrook Combines Affordable Housing and a County Library in Los Angeles


Gateway at Willowbrook Combines Affordable Housing and a County Library in Los Angeles


The Gateway at Willowbrook is a five-story, mixed-used development that includes a branch of LA County Library and 105 units of affordable housing for seniors. The development is one of several new community assets, including a rehabilitated transit station and a new medical campus, that are intended to help revitalize the Willowbrook neighborhood. The unincorporated area located adjacent to South Los Angeles is predominantly Latino and African-American, with significant economic and social barriers to opportunity. Willowbrook struggles with an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, which is considerably higher than the county’s rate of 6.9 percent; and only 50 percent of Willowbrook’s residents over age 24 have a high school diploma or higher educational attainment, a rate almost 30 percentage points lower than in the county. Willowbrook Library offers personal and social benefits for the new senior residents and provides facilities and services to address community challenges. Although it is a first in Los Angeles County, the Gateway at Willowbrook follows a recent trend of combining affordable housing with library branches.

Willowbrook Library Supports the Community

Willowbrook Library occupies 8,000 square feet on the first floor of the development. The library includes spaces for users of all ages: reading areas, family areas for small children and their caregivers, and group study rooms, as well as an information desk, express-service checkout machines, and computers providing access to the internet. A community room, featuring audio and visual equipment, is available for public programs. This room has been used, for example, for arts exhibitions, storytelling, and arts workshops that foster a greater understanding of Willowbrook’s cultural assets. The library also has a collection of modern art representing the cultural diversity of Southern California. Five installations highlight the collection, which was commissioned by the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture.

An important way that LA County Library builds community support and strengthens neighborhood identity is through friends of the library groups at its branches. The Friends of Willowbrook Library purchase books for a summer program that incentivizes youth literacy. The library friends also fund various events, such as the annual Black History Month and Juneteenth programs. In addition, the Friends of Willowbrook Library host The Source, a fair organized specifically for persons experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness, although it is open to all members of the community. The Source provides referrals to county health services, assistance with housing searches, and other information, and distributes resources such as clothes and flu shots.

Workforce Development

Improving employability for area residents is a crucial goal of Willowbrook Library. A County of Los Angeles Workforce Development, Aging, and Community Services center on site, staffed by America’s Job Center of California, provides job search assistance and job training workshops. The center also offers supportive services, including transportation and child care assistance so that residents can take advantage of the programs. Job openings are posted at the center, and residents can apply for these positions using the library’s computers and free printing, copying, and scanning services. According to Pamela Broussard, public information officer for Los Angeles County Library, the Willowbrook community has responded positively to the new resources at the center, developing relationships with center staff and regularly checking on updated job postings. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the workforce center staff have continued to offer employment services virtually. The spaces and resources of Willowbrook Library, including the workforce center, benefit not only county residents but also senior residents of the Gateway at Willowbrook, who can easily access the community amenity.

Affordable Housing for Seniors

The Gateway at Willowbrook's one- and two-bedroom units are affordable to senior residents earning up to 30, 40, and 60 percent of the area median income. Twenty-two of the units are reserved for seniors who previously experienced homelessness. The residential component of the development was designed to facilitate residents' access to the building's public spaces while maintaining privacy. A ground-level entrance separate from the library's entrance provides access to the residential portion of the building. Most of the residential amenities are located on the first floor, which include a gym, computer room, laundry, an outdoor lounge, and garden. Separate from the library's public meeting room, residents also enjoy their own community room on the first floor, where resident services staff offer movie nights, bingo, and other activities.

Resident services staff also offer the senior residents a range of education, recreation, and social programs, including arts and crafts, walking clubs, community gardening, health seminars, cooking classes, and coffee socials. St. Joseph Center, a social services agency providing economic, social, health, and housing services support, has an office at the Gateway at Willowbrook and works closely with the resident services staff to address the housing stability and quality of life needs of the seniors who previously experienced homelessness. Resident services staff also make referrals to other providers for services and programs not provided on site. To encourage residents of the Gateway at Willowbrook to interact with the larger community, library staff reach out to residents to volunteer for the Friends of Willowbrook group and to take advantage of the library's spaces and resources.

A First in Los Angeles County

The development was realized through a public-private partnership between developer Thomas Safran & Associates, LA County Library, and the county's development authority. The Gateway at Willowbrook was the first time that Los Angeles County engaged a private developer to build a library and apartments. According to Cedric Morris, project manager at Thomas Safran & Associates, the county played a significant role in the development process, contributing both funding and its land to make the project feasible (table 1). The residences were largely financed by low-income housing tax credits, funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank, and the Section 108 loan program, as well as $3,555,000 from the Los Angeles County Development Authority. In addition, the development authority contributed $4,617,000 to the library, whose funding also included $1,853,000 from the HUD Economic Development Initiative. After construction, the developer deeded the library portion of the building to the county. Project-based Section 8 vouchers from the county's community development commission subsidize the 22 units for seniors who formerly experienced homelessness.

Table 1: Financing for the Gateway at Willowbrook

Los Angeles County Development Authority


County land contribution


HUD Economic Development Initiative funds


Low-income housing tax credit equity – Wells Fargo


HUD Section 108 loan


Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program


California Community Reinvestment Corporation permanent loan


Southern California Gas Company rebate


Deferred developer fee loan




A Catalysts for Community Revitalization

According to Morris, who attended a Willowbrook high school 20 years ago, the Gateway at Willowbrook and other recent developments have helped revitalize the historically under-invested neighborhood. A new medical campus, featuring a renovated community hospital, a public health center, and a recuperative care center, has made Willowbrook a hub for health care. Renovation of the Metro rail Willowbrook/Rosa Parks station has improved residents' access to one of the system's busiest stations. And the Gateway at Willowbrook is part of a recent trend where cities have attempted to drive community revitalization by co-locating libraries with affordable housing. According to a report by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, these projects contribute to both the area's physical revitalization and the residents' sense of community. One such development in Cornelius, Oregon, for example, helped realize the community's plan for a walkable and mixed-used downtown.


For a discussion of a Chicago development combining a library and residences, see a recent In Practice article here.



The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.