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Inside the Sustainable Cooperative Apartments in LA's Koreatown That Start at $500 a Month

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A few blocks away from the Vermont/Beverly Red Line station, in the northeast corner of Koreatown, a two-building intentional community has been thriving for more than 20 years. The Eco-Village is, by its own definition, an intentional community that "demonstrates processes for achieving lower environmental impacts while raising the quality of community life." There are now three buildings in the Eco-Village's collection, but the first is on a quiet side street, shrouded by the branches and limbs of junipers and tall yellow wildflowers, locked securely behind a fence decorated with a wealth of wind chimes and hummingbird feeders. Built in 1922, it's a U-shaped, two-story structure and is clearly well-loved, perhaps because its tenants are more or less its owners.

Inside that first building, there are a lot of sights that might be expected of a community like this: a nude toddler helping his mom hang up the laundry to dry; a sturdy chicken coop made of reclaimed materials (including an old, French door keeping the birds in); a lush courtyard garden with enormous fruit trees (apples, figs, pomegranates, citrus), and fertile plots of kale and other leafy greens. But it's also a lot like every other apartment building. Units have their own kitchens and (with the exceptions of Sunday potluck dinners), residents use them to make meals for their own families in their own spaces. Tenants pay rent according to the size of their unit. There's *street parking if you need it, but there's a $25 discount on your rent if you're car-free.

This first Eco-Village building, a building immediately next door to the south, and one across the street are all owned by the Urban Soil-Tierra Urbana, the Eco-Village's limited-equity co-op. The co-op keeps rents at "half to a third less than market" rate for the area, says founder Lois Arkin in an email—roughly $500, up to just under $1,000. The first building (the one with the chickens) was purchased in 1996; that same year, Streetsblog LA editor Joe Linton moved in. The 40-unit building was in foreclosure, and "half occupied and half thrashed," he says.

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The co-op bought another building, the eight-unit one next to the first, in 1999, he says, and that one was not so rough around the edges. In both instances, when the Eco-Village moved in, they didn't evict any of the existing tenants. Whether the tenants wanted to participate in the Eco-Village or not, they were allowed to stay; if they're not interested, the process just happens around them, Linton explains. A third building was purchased in 2011, according to the Eco-Village's website, and is managed as affordable housing—but not an official member of the intentional community—by the Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust, which owns the land beneath all three buildings.

The Eco-Village has created this little, three-building hub of not only affordable housing, but actual community, in the sense that people know each other's names and faces and feel comfortable asking each other for favors. In fact, that's one of the big-time perks of living there, Linton says: "When you know all your neighbors and you need to use a drill twice a year, you don't need to buy a drill." There's a kind of tool repository and he just goes to ask for it. "It's probably what happened in our grandparents' neighborhoods," he says. Beyond trusting people with tools, Linton trusts his fellow Eco-Village members with his kid, telling a story of an evening saved by a neighbor who volunteered to stand in for a bit until a late babysitter arrived.

Of course, because the tenants are kind of their own landlords, it means they're on the hook for repairs, infrastructure upgrades, and figuring out how to pay for it all. The Eco-Village has a budget, and the intricacies of any project that needs funding are discussed at the weekly community meeting. The group doesn't vote, instead deciding by consensus, so they have to talk it out until everyone agrees—a process that Linton says is normally fast, but can occasionally take a while.

With its peaceful gardens, transit adjacency, and community of residents who check up on their neighbors, the Eco-Village seems like a great place to have a family or enjoy retirement. Linton says that, in the beginning, the collective was pretty young, mostly people in their late 20s and 30s, and there weren't any kids. Now there are families, there are older people. "As we approach 20 years of owning the first building, we become more intergenerational than we were."