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Meet the Israeli-born developer who wants to create an urban kibbutz for the homeless – The Forward

Meet the Israeli-born developer who wants to create an urban kibbutz for the homeless - The Forward

When Izek Shomof looks at the huge abandoned Sears building he owns in a crowded urban neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles, he sees a kibbutz.

A kibbutz for the homeless.

When Shomof, 62, of Israeli descent, bought the Boyle Heights property in 2013, he planned to turn it into an upscale work complex taking advantage of the rapidly gentrifying population. Either that or he would create a multi-story car museum to house his collection of over 100 classic cars and motorcycles.

But after coming across a newspaper article about a successful Orange County developer dedicated to housing the homeless, Shomof changed his plans.

“Now they’re everywhere,” said Shomof, who said that five decades ago when he arrived in Los Angeles from Israel, the homeless population was mostly confined to inner city neighborhoods. downtown.

Anyone who lives in Los Angeles or has ever visited the city knows how serious the problem is. In 2020, Los Angeles County had 66,433 homeless people. Homeless shelters provide a total of 14,854 beds for this population. Parks, beaches, underpasses and medians have become tent villages. An average of three homeless die every day on the streets of LA. At least 67% of homeless people struggle with mental illness or addiction, 2020 study finds Los Angeles Times study.

“The answer is not just to give them shelter,” Shomof said, “but to rehabilitate them and give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives.”

Shomof plans to use the 1.6 million square foot property to provide many services to homeless people under one roof: a medical center, offices, vocational training rooms, a hair salon, show and music studios – even a kennel. Floors 3 to 10 would provide 5,900 beds in dormitories.

“We’re going to make people comfortable and provide them with all the amenities they need,” he said. “It will be a place where they can heal and move on.”

Shomof plans to invest $200 for the initial construction of the estimated $400 million project. He plans to lease his building to the city for at least 20 years at $23.3 million per year.

“I’ll get 6% on the money. Enough to cover my costs,” Shomof said.

Entrepreneurial roots

Shomof could take less, he said, because he did well.

Born in Tel Aviv, he moved to Los Angeles with his family in Los Angeles in 1973. After attending Van Nuys High School for two years, he dropped out to open a restaurant downtown. He was 16 years old. By the time Shomof had turned 18, he had opened and sold three restaurants and purchased a body shop. “The body shop owner said to me, ‘Son, I’m going to give you the best advice ever: if you can, always buy, don’t rent,'” Shomof said.

The advice paid off. Shomof invested in downtown LA just as its revitalization began in the early ’90s. He bought historic but derelict buildings, restored them, and brought in new upscale tenants.

Since then, downtown has become one of the most popular neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and apartment and office prices have skyrocketed.

He met his wife Aline, a Jewish immigrant from France, when she came to fix his car. The couple have five children and 10 grandchildren. The extended family gathers every Friday night for Shabbat dinners, either at the family’s Beverly Hills home or at their Italian-style villa in Agoura Hills.

A soul sister

The idea for the Sears building first came to Shomof in 2019 when he read an article in the Daily Pilot about Bill Taormina, a 71-year-old Anaheim business owner and philanthropist who supported the causes homelessness and self-funded shelters.

Kindred spirits met at the Sears building in Shomof, and the idea for the Life Rebuilding Center was born.

He said city officials have been supportive, although the bureaucracy is slowly moving.

“And in the meantime, people are dying on the streets,” he said.

Councilman Kevin de León, whose district includes Boyle Heights, said he welcomes Shomof’s plan.

“This is a gargantuan problem that requires everyone to be on deck to fix it, so I’m open to any solutions,” Leon said in a statement about the project.

In the meantime, Shomof has offered the city the land surrounding the Sears building to house between 1,000 and 1,500 homeless people in tiny homes until the project is complete.

He said he was willing to give up the greater profit he would make if he used the land or the building differently.

“I could have made 20% return on my investment if I had developed another project there,” he said. However, I’m not doing it for the money. It’s time to give back to the community and make a change.

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Meet the Israeli-born developer who wants to create an urban kibbutz for the homeless