EL SEGUNDO — After more than two years of study, construction of the city's 97-unit senior housing project is scheduled to begin on Monday, and already the city has been inundated with hundreds of inquiries from prospective tenants.
"It seems like I'm always running into people who ask, 'Chip, what's the latest, when can we move in?,' " said Mayor Charles (Chip) Armstrong. "All I can say is thank God the thing is off the ground."
City officials are particularly proud of the project because it is one of only a few in Los Angeles County financed entirely with city revenue, said City Manager Nicholas Romaniello.
By paying for the three-story building themselves, city officials can ensure that El Segundo's senior citizens will always be given preference for vacancies. If federal money was used, all seniors would have to be considered equally.
Rising Housing Costs
City officials say the project will help many residents who otherwise might have to leave El Segundo because of rising housing costs.
"Oftentimes you have people who have grown with the community only to find out they they can't afford it anymore," said city planner Lynn M. Harris. "The city would like to give these people back something for all they have contributed to El Segundo."
With the November, 1979, passage of Proposition 4, which put a cap on city revenues, El Segundo found itself with about $2.5 million in surplus tax revenue that had to be spent on public projects or be returned to the taxpayers. Voters decided by a 3-1 margin to spend the excess on the senior housing project, and the City Council kicked in another $1.5 million in other revenue.
The 1.15-acre site, a former city maintenance yard at Holly Avenue and Sierra Street, is next to the Joslyn Senior Citizen Center and is within walking distance of the downtown shopping district.
60% Below Market
City officials hope the project--expected to rent for 60% below the market rate--will allow seniors to stay in the tight-knit community despite increases in housing costs. Efficiencies and one-bedroom units that will start at $300 per month could command about $700 per month on the general market, Harris said.
Rents from the project will be paid to the city and will eventually pay for the building, Romaniello said.
In the past decade, housing prices in the city rose about three times as fast as income, making it nearly impossible for low- and fixed-income seniors to remain in El Segundo, city officials said.
About 13% of El Segundo's population of 14,000 is 60 or older and nearly half of that group have very low incomes, according to city officials. An additional 14% of El Segundo's seniors live below the poverty level--a higher percentage than in both the city and county of Los Angeles.
"When you have rapid changes in the rental market, the first people it hits are people on fixed incomes," Romaniello said.
Mabel Lutz, president of the El Segundo Senior Citizens' Club, said her organization keeps losing members who are forced to leave the city for more affordable communities.
"They don't want to leave but they have to," she said. "They just don't know how they can afford to stay, so they pack up and leave the people and the community they love."
Mere talk of the housing project has sparked enthusiastic interest from the city's senior population. "Ever since we started talking about it, even before we had a council commitment, people have been calling and writing to find out more about the project," said Harris, the city planner.
The City Council has appointed a seven-member senior housing board to review applications and oversee the project once it is completed. Though income and residential requirements are still being negotiated, the housing board expects to start accepting applications within the next three months, Harris said.
Apartments will be assigned by lottery to ensure that everyone who meets the requirements will have a fair chance, she said.