On the Ground: CEO John Huskey, left, and President Kasey Burke at Meta Housing Corp.’s apartment project in Vernon.

On the Ground: CEO John Huskey, left, and President Kasey Burke at Meta Housing Corp.’s apartment project in Vernon. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

It generally takes a few generations for a city to double in population. Vernon is going to do it in about a year.

West L.A. developer Meta Housing Corp. broke ground last month on the first private multifamily housing development to be built in the city, population 112. The $12.8 million apartment community will bring 45 affordable units to the industrial enclave southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The development, at 4675 E. 52nd St., will provide workforce housing for the three-shift city where more than 55,000 people are employed. Meta’s small residential development is expected to boost the population of the 5.2-square-mile city to more than 200.

The project came as pressure mounted to boost local residency not just to address a lack of housing but the corruption that came with a small population beholden to the city’s elected officials.

Vernon is home to just 29 residential units: eight apartments and 21 single-family homes, of which the city owns and rents 26. For years, those city-owned residences were leased at below-market rates to dozens of people with direct connections to city officials. Those people presumably voted favorably for city officials.

In 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that Vernon City Council members often served for decades uncontested in elections and were among the highest paid in the state. The Times later reported that the city only charged tenants rents from $120 to $360 a month. Such disclosures spurred Assembly Speaker John Perez, whose L.A. district includes Vernon, to push a bill requiring that California cities have at least 150 residents, effectively challenging Vernon to grow or disband. Though city officials put up a fight and ultimately defeated the bill, they agreed to cap city salaries, reform housing policies and bring in more residents.

“At first we looked at the project a bit cautiously because it’s in Vernon. We thought, ‘Wow, is this a city that really wants to do residential?’” said Kasey Burke, president of Meta. “But it’s actually a really good site, and once we understood the city’s goals, we knew it was a development we could complete successfully.”

Mark Whitworth, Vernon’s city administrator, said the Meta project makes good on the city’s effort to boost its population. The city donated the vacant two-acre lot to the developer after selecting the company from a handful of bids on the project. The city also loaned Meta $1.06 million, money the company said it leveraged to obtain Affordable Housing Program funding on the federal level and low-income housing tax credits from the state. The California Community Reinvestment Corp. and Bank of America provided loans for the project.

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