Tenants facing eviction from their Westchester apartments within the next two months marched in the rain Wednesday morning to protest the way their evictions were handled.
Protesters claimed that the developer, Homestead Group Associates, is not doing enough to help relocate the estimated 200 senior citizens who live in the 212-unit complex, which is to be torn down and replaced by 592 upscale apartments. Carrying homemade banners and cardboard signs, about 20 residents circled the West Los Angeles offices of the developer. The damp weather kept most of the apartment complex's senior residents from taking part in the protest, but the four senior citizens who marched pushed empty wheelchairs to represent those who stayed at home.
First Told May 1
Residents of the Alvern Apartments were told on Feb. 1 that they had until May 31 to get out of the complex on Alvern Street between Centinela Avenue and La Tijera Boulevard.
But nine days later, the developer pushed up the timetable for vacating the complex after learning that the Los Angeles City Council had passed an ordinance requiring firms to pay relocation fees to residents displaced by new residential housing developments.
"To carry the project for four months with interest and also to pay a quarter-million dollars in relocation fees is impossible," said Danny Lerner, a spokesman for Homestead Group Associates.
Although the protesters never met face-to-face with the developers, the group demanded that the firm delay the eviction date and set aside a section of the new apartment complex for senior housing.
However, a spokesman for the developer said Wednesday that the company could not afford to delay construction or commit a percentage of apartments to low-income housing.
Under the current timetable, residents who are 62 or older will have to find new homes and move out by April 9. Those under 62 will have to vacate their homes March 9.
But it is the plight of the older residents, many of whom have lived in the sprawling garden-style complex for more than 20 years, that has prompted the protest.
Because they moved into the Alvern complex so long ago, many of them, protected by Los Angeles' rent control ordinance, pay less than $300 a month for two-bedroom apartments.
City housing officials say that if rented today, similar apartments in the same area would go for at least $600 a month.
"I'm squeezing just to pay the $285 I am paying now," said 79-year-old Norma Tierney, who has lived in the complex more than 25 years.
"I know I won't find a place this nice or inexpensive, even with the money the landlord is going to give me. And when I do find a new place, it just won't be home," she said.
Passage of the relocation ordinance on Feb. 7 came as a surprise to Homestead Group Associates, who had been told earlier by city officials that it would probably not be enacted for another four months.
The ordinance requires that developers provide relocation fees for tenants who are evicted from homes or apartments to make way for new residential housing projects or major renovations. Under the new law, Homestead Group Associates will have to pay each household with residents age 62 or older or dependent children $2,500 in relocation fees. Other households will receive a flat $1,000 fee. Under the ordinance relocation fees must be paid to residents. Even residents who do not leave by the deadline are entitled to the relocation allowance, said Aaron Bovshow, attorney for Homestead.
But the protesters also want Homestead Group Associates to actively help seniors find comparable housing they can afford and contend that the $2,500 fee will subsidize the difference in the cost between an apartment in the Alvern complex and one elsewhere for only a few months. Protesters further contend that the Homestead Group has done little so far to help the seniors relocate.
"First of all, we have people in wheelchairs and people who are just too old to go out and hunt for a new apartment," said Arne Hurty, 27, an Alvern resident who helped form a group called Alvern Rage to try to get help for the senior citizens.
"Sure the (relocation) money's nice, but how are these people going to go out and find an apartment that is one-half as nice as this one for the price they are used to paying?"
However, Homestead Group Associates says it has been going out of its way to help the seniors who live in the Alvern complex.
'Planned to Help'
"We had planned to help the senior citizens even before the city passed the ordinance requiring that we pay relocation fees to all residents," said Lerner.
"We could have evicted them a long time ago but we have been holding off because we know there are a lot of old people who live in that building," Lerner said. Homestead had obtained its building permit last October and could have evicted the residents then. Homestead had obtained its building permit last October and could have served residents with 30-day eviction notices then.