The 80 one-bedroom apartments of the Arthur K. Snyder Villa in Eagle Rock, built with federal funds to provide "affordable" housing for low-income old people, will remain empty through the Christmas season, even though the three-story building was completed in the summer.
A dispute between city and federal governments over whether the apartments should be air-conditioned has kept eligible seniors from moving into the project at 1536 Yosemite Drive.
Meanwhile, one city employee says he's angry over how the tenants were selected.
The elderly selected to live in the city's newest housing project--mostly constituents of ex-City Councilman Art Snyder's 14th District--will have to wait until early next year to move, after the Los Angeles Housing Authority installs air conditioning in each of the apartments.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development had cut funds for the project, leading city housing planners to eliminate $179,500 for air conditioning from the $3.3-million building, according to the Housing Authority officials who administer the project.
Snyder, the representative of the area for 18 years before resigning last month, had heard about halfway through construction that the units bearing his name would not be air-conditioned. He tried, unsuccessfully, to get HUD to contribute money for the air conditioning.
"The building was planned for air conditioning, but the feds said, 'You have to cut back costs,' " Snyder said. "I said, 'Over my dead body. Find the money.' "
The assistant executive director of the Housing Authority, Faustin Gonzales, said his staff persuaded the city Housing Authority in October to pay for air-conditioning units to be installed in each living room wall after the building was finished.
"We're ready to have tenants in there, but there could be problems with elderly citizens when they're putting holes in the walls," said Charles Cofield, a Housing Authority staffer.
The Snyder Villa, pared down from a more elaborate $7-million design because of a tightened HUD budget, is one of many improvements that through the years garnered Snyder solid support from his Northeast Los Angeles constituency. He reportedly helped select the site.
Elderly residents of Snyder's political stronghold of Eagle Rock successfully petitioned the Housing Authority to name the project after the longtime councilman earlier this year, Gonzales said.
List of Tenants
A preliminary list of tenants selected for the new project shows that most will be former Snyder constituents. Officials of the Housing Authority say that was not by design or because of Snyder's influence.
However, one Housing Authority employee maintained that Snyder's former constituents had an unfair advantage.
"I've never encountered anything like this," said Bill Davis, a tenant relations assistant for the Housing Authority. "This Housing Authority is supposed to be for the city of Los Angeles, not the 14th District."
Although the Housing Authority first contacted eligible residents at each of the city's 14 housing projects, as well as those on waiting lists for the projects, most applicants for the Eagle Rock project were those whose names and addresses were given to the agency by Snyder's office, Davis said.
The 223 seniors on the list provided by Snyder's office were among the 260 seniors who were mailed notices to apply for housing at the new project, Davis said.
"Almost all the applicants were the people contacted by those letters," said Davis, who interviewed applicants for the project. "A few outsiders heard about it by chance."
Because there is no law requiring that the Housing Authority advertise for tenants in low-rent public housing projects owned by the city, the only public announcements of the project were from Snyder's office, according to Bob Saathof, the authority's acting executive director of operations.
"The first priority went to those in other housing projects, and then for the people on waiting lists for those projects," Saathof said.
But seniors already living in housing projects usually are reluctant to move and leave their family, friends, churches and physicians, said Nancy Ryerson, administrative systems officer for the Housing Authority.
"The response from seniors in other projects is practically nil," Ryerson said.
Snyder said he first announced the building of the project in newspapers serving Eagle Rock and Highland Park. Those interested were asked to come to his office and sign up for applications, he said.
"The list was made up of those that came in and signed up in the office," Snyder said.
It is not unusual for City Council members to submit lists of interested constituents to the Housing Authority, Saathof said. All applicants, including those on Snyder's list, receive equal consideration and must qualify for the housing according to income, he said.
But Davis contended that those who were mailed applications based on Snyder's list had an advantage because their applications arrived first.
"We never did see anybody from other housing projects' waiting lists," Davis said.
The waiting lists for senior housing at all but one of the city's low-rent housing projects are closed because of high demand, said Irene Welker, manager of the Estrada Courts housing project in Boyle Heights. She said about five people from existing waiting lists probably will move into Snyder Villa.
When told that most of the seniors who applied for the housing were from his old district, Snyder said, "I think that's terrific."