LOMITA — "I watched this building go up, honey," said 77-year-old Virginia Smith as she sat in her living room with her pet cockateel, Beaky, perched on her shoulder. "And I knew all along I wanted to live here."
Smith lives in Lomita Manor, a 78-unit building for elderly and handicapped people that opened here in December. She moved in four months ago, leaving behind a boyfriend of three years and the house they rented together.
What she gained, Smith said, was her wish to live alone in a one-bedroom apartment that she could afford on her $622-a-month Social Security check. Like other residents of Lomita Manor, she pays 30% of her gross income in rent.
And although some of the women living in Lomita Manor are a little too "gossipy" for her taste, Smith said, everything else about the building is "perfect. I love it."
First Senior Project
Lomita Manor is the first senior-citizens project in two-square-mile Lomita--a city that, according to City Councilman Hal Croyts, is "like a small town you would see in the East or Midwest. Most of the people care about one another here."
That feeling, the 65-year-old Croyts and others said, has contributed to the city's success in recent years in building housing for seniors and the handicapped. Led by the city's determined senior groups, a united City Council and a public-spirited Kiwanis Club chapter, Lomita has moved ahead with plans for such housing while some its neighboring cities have lagged behind.
Besides the $3.5-million Lomita Manor on Walnut Avenue, a 67-unit building called Lomita Kiwanis Gardens has just been completed on Ebony Lane. Senior and handicapped people are moving into the $2-million building that, like Lomita Manor, is subsidized by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The City Council recently decided to begin searching for a third site in the city for yet another complex, and has already cleared zoning obstacles to allow a local development company to build condominiums that are expected to appeal to middle-class seniors.
Other Cities 'Jealous'
"Lomita only has 19,000 people and look at what we have," said Dayle Saffell, an 85-year-old senior rights activist who worked to get the two projects funded and built. "All the other cities are getting a little jealous."
"It's no big secret, as far as I'm concerned, on how we did it," said Leonard Loy, who served as a councilman for 10 years before deciding not to seek reelection last spring. "We have managed to do the things that had to be done. We went to bat for the housing locally with our legislators and in Washington, D. C., and I think we made the right connections."
Of the housing projects, only one--the condominium complex--is not for low-income seniors and handicapped persons. That project, scheduled to be completed this fall, will include 88 one- and two-bedroom units. One-bedroom units are expected to sell for under $80,000.
John Pollack, a partner in the company building the units, P & R Corp., said that by promising city officials that the condominiums would be sold only to seniors, the company got the city to change the site's zoning from manufacturing to residential, and increased height and density limits.
An Affordable Option
Pollack said he expects the Crenshaw Boulevard complex to appeal to seniors who, for example, want to live near children or grandchildren already in the South Bay, but find it difficult or impossible to afford a place of their own here. The units also should appeal to seniors who want to sell a larger, more expensive home and use a portion of the profits for a future financial security blanket.
While Pollack was aided by the city, the city, in turn, has been helped in its efforts to build housing for low-income seniors and the handicapped by three Palos Verdes Peninsula communities. During the last seven fiscal years, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates combined have given more than $950,000 in federal community block grant funds to Lomita.
The three cities have a small percentage of low-income people, and by having a portion of their block grants transferred to Lomita, they are credited with providing state-mandated housing for such people, Lomita city officials said. Lomita, in turn, has used the lion's share of the funds to purchase the property for Lomita Manor and Lomita Kiwanis Gardens.
"Without the money, it probably would have taken us a little longer to get our housing started here," said Lomita City Manager Walker Ritter.
Approved by Voters
Ritter said the city proceeded with plans to build housing for seniors and the handicapped after voters in 1980 approved a measure authorizing the city to construct 150 units. The referendum was approved by 80% of the voters--many of them presumably senior citizens, he said.
(Census figures indicate that 11.9% of Lomita's population is made up of people 65 or older. By 1990, the percentage is expected to grow to just over 13%.