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Sun Valley housing project offers stability to homeless families in LAUSD

A woman embraces her daughter.
Anica Rubang embraces her daughter, Faith Leon, 3, at Sun King Apartments on April 10, 2024. The housing project in Sun Valley was created for homeless families with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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Nestled in the working-class community of Sun Valley stands a bright red and white four-story cube building, which dramatically contrasts with the dated beige and gray apartment blocks surrounding it.

The Sun King Apartments offers stability for once-homeless families such as Anica Rubang and Angel Leon, who have struggled to stay housed for years. What made them eligible for this home was their energetic 3-year-old daughter, Faith Leon, who attends the Pacoima Early Education Center a few miles away.

When Many Mansions, an affordable housing nonprofit, purchased the half-acre parcel opposite what was formerly Sun Valley High School in 2017, the Los Angeles Unified School District approached it with a proposal to develop the land into housing for homeless families with children in the district.

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After nearly seven years of overcoming bureaucratic and pandemic hurdles, the project is finished. Families began moving into the 26-unit residential building in December.

Rubang’s family of three was among the first to move in on Day One. This was the first time any of them had a place to call home.

“We were very scared but excited,” Rubang said. “It was the first home our baby has actually ever had to herself.”

Rubang and Leon first met in a shelter in Bakersfield in 2022, each struggling with homelessness for years. Rubang, 21, left home when she turned 18, a decision caused by an emotionally stressful home life. And Leon, 25, has been homeless since the age of 16.

The partners took a chance making the 103-mile trek to Burbank earlier in the year after Leon received a job at the Burbank Airport. But not knowing anyone in the San Fernando Valley isolated them, and their pay was not enough to afford the high costs of a long-term apartment lease.

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While in Burbank, the couple obtained an emergency housing voucher from the Department of Public Social Services. In September, they discovered the Sun King complex through the district, receiving assistance from Many Mansions and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, or HACLA, for the paperwork process.

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“The transition was definitely rough because when you come here with no resources, and when it’s solely you and your family, it’s really hard to get a step up,” Rubang said.

This effort marked LAUSD’s first collaboration with Many Mansions and HACLA, focused solely on helping homeless students and their families.

Many Mansions obtained project funding from the state, along with the city’s HHH funding program — the proposition that provides funds for the development of supportive housing for homeless individuals and families throughout the city.

Originally estimated to cost about $15.5 million, the final total for the project reached $21 million, about $807,000 per unit.

LAUSD and the county’s Coordinated Entry System for homeless services identified families who self-identified as experiencing homelessness and would meet the criteria based on household income and size. These families were then referred to LA Family Housing for a detailed eligibility assessment before being placed in apartments.

HACLA provided tenants with project-based Section 8 vouchers, with residents paying no more than 30% of the area’s median income.

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“As part of their strategic plan, LAUSD wanted to promote housing stability,” said Rick Schroeder, president and chief executive of Many Mansions. “That is a huge need for the kids’ success in school and in their lives.”

Nearly 15,000 students in the district are experiencing homelessness, according to the LAUSD. However, this figure is likely an undercount since the data relies on self-identification, which many students and families choose not to disclose.

Schroeder noted that the Sun King Apartments houses 47 school-aged children, with most families being single-parent households.

“Homelessness affects children when you’re living with two or three other families, in a small cramped space, where there is crime and it’s dirty,” Schroeder said. “With families that are homeless is where you really see the damage that homelessness has caused.”

In 2022, L.A. City Council District 6, home to Sun Valley, ranked third highest in homeless counts for households with at least one child younger than 18 and one adult over 18 in L.A. Data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority recorded 361 such households in the district.

A Sun Valley native and the district’s council member, Imelda Padilla, underscored the significance of resources such as Sun King Apartments in addressing homelessness, particularly with families in her area.

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“This has to be successful because we need to be able to point to it and say, ‘This is a model that should be replicated,’” Padilla said.

The signs of a community setting tailored to families and children are evident: a communal room arranged for an upcoming after-school program with computers and a cooking station, several outdoor recreational areas, a laundry room, an on-site case manager and a planned space for a library.

Since settling in, Rubang described a sense of community at the complex, where older children befriended Faith and neighbors drop off food at their house. She calls it a “constant cycle of giving back to each other.”

Faith’s mother noted a significant change in her daughter’s happiness since adjusting to the new apartment. Faith eagerly starts each day by opening the blinds and welcoming sunlight into the apartment.

A mother holding her daughter's hand while she twirls around.
Anica Rubang has fun with her daughter, Faith Leon, 3, in a common area at Sun King Apartments on April 10, 2024, in Sun Valley.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

“The biggest thing for us is we’re starting to really grow as parents and grow with our child mainly because there is stability,” she said.

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Both parents are currently employed, with Leon working for security company Allied Universal and Rubang being a certified nursing assistant.

“Stability was really lacking in the household because of the constant fears and factors going through your head,” Rubang said. “It’s definitely become a burden off our shoulders not having to worry about where we’re going to sleep.”

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