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Russell Urges Building Halt to Protect the Elderly

January 23, 1986|MICHELE L. NORRIS | Times Staff Writer

WESTCHESTER — The pending eviction of about 175 elderly people from a Westchester apartment building has prompted Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell to propose a measure that would temporarily block a plan to build new apartments on the site unless the developers set aside 25% of the units for senior-citizen housing.

The measure, which will go before the city's Planning Commission today, is designed to help maintain the Westchester area's shrinking senior-citizen population, officials said.

"There is a problem with tenants who have lived in our community for 20 years when someone comes in and forces them out into a rental market that is often two and three times higher than they are used to paying," said Kathy Martin, an aide in Russell's Westchester field office.

"We're not trying to make it difficult for developers. We are just trying to protect seniors. If we don't, we might lose them."

No Senior-Citizen Housing

Danny Lerner, a spokesman for Homestead Group Associates, a partner in the proposed new project, said his company does not plan to provide senior-citizen housing among the 592 new apartments being planned. He accused Russell of trying to strong-arm the firm.

"She is trying to force our hand while we are extending the eviction period out of compassion for those tenants," he said.

Homestead told Alvern residents early this month that they would have to vacate by Feb. 15. At Russell's urging, the company extended the deadline to March 31.

Senior citizens make up nearly half of the complex's approximately 400 residents. Many of the older residents have lived there for 25 years or more, city officials and tenant leaders said. Because of rent control, some pay less than $300 for a two-bedroom apartment. Rent for similar apartments averages $600, according to Los Angeles housing officials.

"I don't think we'll ever find a place as nice as this one for the same price," said Aileen Jukkala, 85, who has lived with her husband George in the Alvern complex for 31 years.

Special Rent Provisions

Under Russell's proposal, which would require City Council approval, no new apartment developments could be built along a five-block stretch of Alvern Street between Centinela Avenue and La Tijera Boulevard unless 25% of the units were slated for senior-citizen housing, with rents adjusted to a tenant's income on a case-by-case basis. The measure would technically be a moratorium on issuing construction permits unless the conditions were met, and it would last for six months.

City housing and planning officials said they hope the proposed moratorium will persuade Homestead and its partners to include senior-citizen housing in their plans. If that failed, the partnership would have to leave the Alvern site vacant for six months.

Those officials also accuse the Homestead group of rushing the eviction plans to avoid paying residents relocation fees that would be required under a proposal being studied by a City Council committee. Lerner declined to comment on that allegation.

The relocation proposal, which is expected to go before the council in about three months, would affect developers who tear down old apartment buildings to construct new ones. It would require them to pay $2,500 in relocation fees to residents 62 and over, disabled tenants or tenants with minor dependent children. All other tenants would receive $1,000 in relocation fees under the ordinance.

Some Pay Fees Now

Developers who replace rental housing with condominiums or commercial developments already have to pay such fees.

The proposed ordinance, however, would not help Alvern residents if they are forced to move before it is adopted.

In addition to the moratorium, Russell is asking that the city Planning Department study senior citizen housing needs in the eastern part of Westchester. Russell suggested that the city study the possibility of zoning changes to allow federally subsidized housing for senior citizens.

Although she could not give a specific figure, previous developments in Westchester already have forced "hundreds" of elderly residents in the area to move, said Barbara Zeidman, director of rent stabilization for the city's Community Development Department.

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