Benita Casas' living arrangements are typical of other families' in Anaheim's Chevy Chase neighborhood: She and her husband sleep in one bedroom, three daughters use the second bedroom and two sons spend the night on a roll-away in the living room.
Her apartment is similar to many others in the largely Latino area in north Anaheim. It is clean and tidy, with old furniture. It's no utopia, but her family has been happy there for the last 10 years.
Then there are the apartments like the one directly below hers: a floor ashtray overflowing with cigarette stubs sits by one of two torn, dirty couches that serve as beds. And standing in the middle of the stained living room rug is a dusty lawnmower.
But the residents of the deteriorating apartments, well-kept or not, will be forced to move if the city goes ahead with a unique proposal to help a developer buy and renovate the entire mile-square area of apartments. On July 1, the city approved a memorandum of understanding with the Karcher/Barry Co., a development firm owned by hamburger magnate Carl Karcher and Anaheim developer Terrance K. Barry. And on Tuesday, the Anaheim Housing Authority is scheduled to consider the second step of the project--and plan to relocate at least 200 families.
And while the city looks to the $25-million project as a clean start for a run-down, overcrowded neighborhood, some Latino activists say that the project will eliminate cheap housing for the immigrants that have settled here.
"It's part of an overall plan to gentrify the . . . area. To get rid of the minorities, have the place redone under the auspices of beautification and raise rents. That's where it's going," said Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County. "This is the undercurrent. We're petrified at the thought this is the way they're going to do it. They are going to get rid of the people.
"These people (the city) are trying to stop the inevitable. They are trying to stop the concentration of immigrant families in the county," said activist Nativo Lopez. "Anyone just has to go take a ride around Disneyland to find Disneyland is living in a sea of immigrants."
But a neighborhood group that vehemently protested any renovation of the neighborhood in 1983 says it is awaiting more input on the project before taking a position.
In December, 1983, when word got out that a city report would recommend, among other options, single ownership of the Chevy Chase neighborhood, Familias Unidas in Accion (Families United in Action) protested, saying it would evict families.
Spokesmen for the group--most of whom belong to St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim --recently declined comment on current plans and said they are awaiting more information.
The Rev. Conrad Pytlik, who was part of the protest when he was assigned to St. Boniface, said he hopes the plan does not "break up the community."
About 3,000 people live in Chevy Chase, part of the larger Patrick Henry area of north Anaheim, directly south of the Riverside Freeway, according to a city-commissioned report released in September, 1984. The average one-bedroom apartment has five people and the average two-bedroom apartment has eight people, according to the 1984 Patrick Henry Neighborhood Planning and Design Study.
About 200 families will have to be moved, said David A. Stadler of Long Beach-based Pacific Relocation Consultants, but that's only a guess. More families living in the almost 400 units--sometimes two and three families to one apartment--may be relocated to ease overcrowding and other housing code violations such as broken plumbing, loose wiring and deteriorating walls.
Relocation does not mean Chevy Chase residents will be given "$500 and a 30-day notice," Anaheim Housing Coordinator Larry J. Cabrera said, emphasizing "no one will be placed on the streets." Barry said the needs and concerns of the community will be addressed. Karcher was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Stadler said his firm's relocation plan would include interviewing families, assessing their needs, helping them find adequate housing and paying moving costs.
It also would include giving tenants up to $4,000--possibly more--to help subsidize rent payments if the new apartment is more expensive than their home in Chevy Chase, Stadler said. For example, if a tenant pays $400 in Chevy Chase but must pay new rent of $480, the Karcher/Barry firm or the city, or both, would pay that additional $80 for a four-year period, Stadler said.
The city also would set aside 25% of the units as affordable housing, which means it will be available to people who earn 80% of the Orange County median income, (for example, $31,760 instead of the median $39,700 for a family of four,) Cabrera said.
Some housing experts said the Chevy Chase developers and the city have a difficult task before them. It's no secret that there's a shortage of affordable housing in the county.