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Los Angeles, California: Reviving a Historic YMCA for Transitioning Youth and Chronically Homeless

Photograph of the front façade of a four-story masonry building. A partially rendered cross section showing apartments, the rooftop garden, the commons room, and a parking garage in the four-story original building, two-story middle wing, and five-story new building. Photograph showing a rooftop garden and the north façade of the new building. Also pictured is a metal trellis holding mechanical equipment. Photgraph showing young adults and children playing on an indoor basketball court. Photograph of the three people sitting at computers in a room of eleven computers. The mural bench forms a partial wall for the computer area. Photograph of a room with exposed floor joists and pipes. Photograph of vertical solar panels hung on the side of a five story building.


Home >Case Studies >Los Angeles, California: Reviving an Historic YMCA for Transitioning Youth and Chronically Homeless


Los Angeles, California: Reviving an Historic YMCA for Transitioning Youth and Chronically Homeless


After years of neglect, the historic 28th Street YMCA in Los Angeles has been reborn as the 28th Street Apartments, a mixed-use, supportive housing facility that combines workforce development programs with 48 affordable housing units for youth aging out of foster care, the mentally ill, and the chronically homeless. Restoration of the 90-year-old Spanish Colonial Revival building preserved historic architectural elements and included a 5-story addition to the rear of the structure. The 28th Street Apartments includes innovative solar elements in its energy-efficient design, earning it Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certification. Completed in 2012, the project received the 2014 American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing Design and was a 2013 World Architecture Festival winner in the Completed Building Housing category.

Preserving the Past

Clifford Beers Housing and the Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD) strove to preserve an historic community asset in a way that was sensitive to the needs of the neighborhood, say Vanessa Luna, housing director at Clifford Beers, and Nicole Velasquez, project manager with CRCD. When it was built in 1926, the 28th Street YMCA provided affordable housing to young black men while they established themselves financially. The building had 52 single-occupancy rooms with shared bathrooms and a communal kitchen. Designed by renowned architect Paul Williams, the first black member of the American Institute of Architects, the building anchored the community along Central Avenue, the cultural core of Southern California’s African American population. The 28th Street YMCA furthered community interests by providing meeting space, a large swimming pool, and a gymnasium.

According to Brian Lane, managing principal at Koning Eizenberg Architecture, the goal of the renovation was to respect Williams’s design and the building’s cultural and communal importance while integrating the new elements seamlessly into both the original structure and the surrounding neighborhood. Whenever possible, original elements were preserved, such as the building’s exterior and terracotta roof. The interior basketball court was renovated, with its brick walls and wainscoting restored. When preservation was not possible, historic elements were alluded to in the renovated design. The old pool, for example, was filled in and converted into a community room, but the footprint of the pool was outlined in tile on the floor. Images of the architect and other historic black figures were added to a mural bench on the first floor, mirroring Williams’s bas-relief panels of Booker T. Washington, Fredrick Douglass, and others between the fourth-story windows.

Renovating the Y

The renovation tripled the size of the residential rooms, which grew from 85–110 square feet to 280–350 square feet, and added a kitchenette and bathroom to each unit. A five-story residential wing was built on the rear of the site to keep the number of units virtually the same despite the substantial increase in unit size. By not adding units, the developer was not required to add parking spaces, thus reducing the cost of construction. The new wing allowed the development to include a 39-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system and a solar water heating system. To avoid damage to the historic terracotta roof tiles, the PV panels were attached to the south-facing walls of the new wing, capitalizing on the abundant sunlight that Los Angeles receives. Although not as efficient as rooftop panels, vertically oriented PV panels partially offset the reduced efficiency through lower operational and maintenance costs; PV panels placed on the side of the building gather less dust than rooftop panels.

One of the biggest challenges in updating the building was installing modern amenities such as up-to-date heating and cooling, electrical, and plumbing systems. The shared bathrooms in the original building, for example, were replaced with private bathrooms in each renovated unit. The architects added a raised “interstitial floor” to the second story to accommodate the plumbing, electrical, and fire service lines so that these systems did not damage the first-story ceiling. The heating and air conditioning system was placed on a metal trellis so that the roof of the one-story gymnasium wing could be used as a garden between the old building and the new tower. These design solutions preserved social areas, furthering a project goal to include welcoming spaces for young adults, says Lane. Even the laundry room, which is typically hidden in the basement, was placed in a prominent second-floor location adjacent to the garden to encourage informal interactions.

Financing the Project

The total development cost for the project was $21 million (table 1). Through the state’s Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funding, 30 units were set aside for homeless or mentally ill individuals, including 8 reserved for young adults aged 18 to 24. A total of 48 units are available to low-income individuals: 23 units for those earning 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), 7 for those earning 40 percent of AMI, and 18 for those earning 50 percent of AMI.

Table 1. Financing for the 28th Street Apartments

Tax credit equity


Mental Health Services Act


Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles


Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department


Los Angeles County Community Development Commission







Serving Residents and the Community

According to Velasquez, the building’s design incorporates office space and private rooms for intensive onsite mental health and other support services. For example, CRCD’s residential case manager provides life skills support to all 48 residents, including intensive support to the 18- to 24-year-old residents. Many of these young adults — especially those who have aged out of the foster care system — face difficult transitions to adulthood because of a heightened risk of homelessness and lack of access to important support, employment, or education networks. The case manager works with residents to ensure that they retain their housing and work toward self-sufficiency. The goal for the younger residents is to develop a transition plan to find housing in the private market, but no limit is placed on the length of stay. Case workers from Kedren Community Health Center, an MHSA service provider, supplement CRCD’s work by delivering mental health services to residents of the MHSA units, including access to a psychiatrist.

Clifford Beers and CRCD also included neighborhood amenities in the 28th Street Apartments, particularly for local youth. Community residents have access to the basketball court, a community room, a common room, and a 7,000-square-foot community center. CRCD provides job skills training to young people through a VCN City of Los Angeles YouthSource Center housed onsite and works with local groups such as All Peoples Community Center, Los Angeles Conservation Corps, and YouthBuild USA to deliver employment services and promote economic development. For example, more than 40 YouthBuild apprentices assisted in the renovation of the 28th Street Apartments, several of whom were hired by the contractor when the project was finished.

Connecting Past and Present

Hearkening back to the YMCA’s initial purpose, Clifford Beers Housing and CRCD set out to develop a building that would help young adults make the difficult transition to adulthood and serve the needs of the community. Through innovative design that preserves the legacy of the past while addressing the needs of the present, the 28th Street Apartments is once again creating opportunities for individuals to transform their lives.


Interview with Vanessa Luna, 24 July 2014; Interview with Nicole Velasquez, 24 July 2014; Paul Revere Williams Project. n.d. “YMCA, 28th Street, Los Angeles.” Accessed 14 July 2014.



Interview with Brian Lane, 15 July 2014; Koning Eizenberg Architecture. n.d. “28th Street Apartments Project.” Accessed 14 July 2014; California Office of Historic Preservation. 2009. “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Twenty-eighth Street YMCA.” Accessed 16 July 2014.



Koning Eizenberg Architecture. n.d. “28th Street Apartments.” Accessed 28 July 2014; World Building Directory. n.d. “28th Street Apartments.” Accessed 19 July 2014; Interview with Brian Lane, 15 July 2014.



Interview with Brian Lane, 15 July 2014; Koning Eizenberg Architecture. n.d. “28th Street Apartments Project.” Accessed 28 July 2014; Clifford Beers Housing. 2014. “28th Street Apartments.” Accessed 16 July 2014; Clifford Beers Housing. 2012. “Landmark YMCA Opens as 28th Street Apartments, Providing Homes for Low Income Individuals and Job Skills Center for Youth,” press release, 3 December.



Email correspondence with Vanessa Luna, 1 August 2014; Los Angeles County. 2012. “28th Street Apartments – MHSA Units.” Accessed 21 September 2014; Koning Eizenberg Architecture. n.d. “28th Street Apartments Project.” Accessed 14 July 2014; Clifford Beers Housing. 2012. “Landmark YMCA Opens as 28th Street Apartments, Providing Homes for Low Income Individuals and Job Skills Center for Youth,” press release, 3 December.



Email correspondence with Nicole Velasquez, 20 August 2014; Amy Dworksy and Robin Dion. 2014. “Issue Brief: Evaluating Housing Programs for Youth Who Age out of Foster Care.” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Accessed 14 July 2014; Interview with Vanessa Luna, 24 July 2014.



Interview with Nicole Velasquez, 24 July 2014; Koning Eizenberg Architecture. “28th Street Apartments Project.” Accessed 14 July 2014; Coalition for Responsible Community Development. 2014. “Real Estate Portfolio.” Accessed 16 July 2014; Koning Eizenberg Architecture. n.d. “28th Street Apartments Project.” Accessed 14 July 2014.


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.