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News

Alumnus' donation gives L.A.'s homeless housing

Kenton Hanson

The funding allows project to provide medical services to homeless beginning 2008.

Source :: USC Daily Trojan, By Laura Ybarra
Date :: Nov 9, 2006 

USC alumnus Sonny Astani 's $1.5 million donation to the Skid Row Housing Trust will enable the completion of a downtown apartment complex that will house 115 of Los Angeles' mentally ill homeless.

The donation will allow Abbey Apartments, located at 625 S. San Pedro St. , to open in 2008. The apartments will provide on-site social, medical and mental services, said Mike Alvidrez, executive director of the Skid Row Housing Trust.

"We provide supportive housing services integrated with property management that is geared to the needs of the residents," Alvidrez said.

The trust was founded in 1989 by community business leaders and activists who were committed to preserving affordable single-occupancy housing in downtown.

Since 1990, the organization has developed or restored 19 hotel properties that have provided affordable housing for about 1,200 people.

"Sonny wanted to provide something to the city that would have a lasting benefit. It is good for all of downtown," Alvidrez said.

Astani, who is a Los Angeles downtown developer, said it felt natural to help the homeless with housing development.

"I believe when you provide housing, you provide it for everyone … the homeless … or the affluent," he said. "Downtown is for everyone. Everyone has to have housing."

Ever since Astani was a graduate student at USC during the 1970s, he said he has been aware of the city's homeless population.

"We live in a country where federal and state funding for public housing is dried up for various reasons," Astani said. " L.A. has become the de facto capital of the homeless. It's a shame."

Today, Los Angeles County has a homeless population estimated at 88,000.

When Astani learned the $26 million apartment complex was over budget, he offered to donate the $1.5 million needed for completion, he said.

"My goal was to identify an organization that was providing a long-term solution," Astani said. "After talking to them for about 10 minutes, it was clear they knew what they were doing. They are helping the ones who really need help."

Astani earned a master's degree in industrial and systems engineering in 1978. He has worked in Southern California real estate for more than 25 years.

He is the chairman of Astani Enterprises Inc., which is headquartered in Beverly Hills . 

With three major projects underway, his company is developing some 2,000 condominiums valued at $1 billion throughout downtown, Hollywood and Koreatown.

Astani serves on the boards of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and USC's Lusk Center for Real Estate Development.

Last year, Astani was awarded the inaugural Distinguished Alumnus Award by the Viterbi School 's Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Astani said he would like to see the Los Angeles business community help Skid Row's homeless population.

"(Homelessness) is a problem, and we should all help," he said. "People have to instigate something."

Councilwoman Jan Perry said in a statement, "This is the kind of public-private partnership we need if we are going to solve the problem of homelessness."

© Copyright 2006 Daily Trojan