The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a $25-million, tax-supported plan to transform the rundown Bryant-Vanalden area of Northridge into a gated, park-like community, even though critics say it could force out many of the neighborhood's low-income Latino tenants.
An aide to Mayor Tom Bradley said the mayor will approve the plan once it reaches his desk.
The plan, approved by the council on a 9-1 vote, with Councilman Ernani Bernardi dissenting, calls for the city to issue $20.8 million in tax-exempt bonds and lend another $4.2 million to a developer to buy and fix up 462 apartments in the neighborhood. It is the largest project of its kind since the city began rehabilitating low-income housing in 1980, according to Craig Avery, director of the housing division of the city's Community Development Department.
The plan was the second one proposed for the area, which has long been criticized for introducing crime and unsightly conditions into the middle-class neighborhood. The first one was dropped last year after protests by tenants and civil-rights groups that it would cause mass evictions of the 3,000 predominantly low-income Latino tenants in the cluster of 60 apartment buildings at Bryant Street and Vanalden Avenue.
Assurances for Tenants
Wednesday's council action came after Douglas Ford, general manager of the Community Development Department, assured council members that the plan affords tenants greater protection than any similar one in city history.
No evictions are proposed, although the developer plans to temporarily relocate tenants to apartments in the same neighborhood while their units are fixed up.
The latest plan allows the developer, Devinder (Dave) Vadehra, to raise rents up to $175 a month to recover the cost of improvements. The city proposes to soften the blow of rent increases by subsidizing the rents of an undetermined number of low-income tenants.
During a public hearing before the vote, representatives of legal aid and tenants' rights groups who have worked with Bryant-Vanalden tenants, expressed concern that the plan would force out many tenants who cannot obtain rent subsidies and cannot afford the rent increases.
"This project shouldn't be just for the sake of beautifying the neighborhood without providing affordable housing for the tenants," said Anne Kamsvaag, an attorney with San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services.
Larry Gross, executive director of Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants' rights group, also urged votes against the plan. "We are opposed to his plan because we see it as another effort which will result in large-scale evictions of low-income minority tenants," he said.
Gross also protested the city's failure to notify Bryant-Vanalden tenants of the plan.
Avery said the city will make "every effort" to obtain rent subsidies for low-income tenants. To qualify for a rent subsidy, a family of four must earn less than $24,150 a year.
"With this type of subsidy," he said, "in many cases, they will be paying less rent and living in better housing conditions than they are today."
Tenants who qualify for rent subsidies pay 30% of their income on rent. The rest is picked up by the government. A tenant who now pays $500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment and earns $1,000 a month thus would have to pay only $300 in rent if he qualifies for a subsidy, even if the rent increases.
Some May Have to Move
Avery acknowledged that some tenants who do not obtain rent subsidies may be forced to move because of higher rents. But, he assured the council, the developer will try to find these tenants other housing in the same neighborhood or elsewhere in the city.
"The cornerstone of this project is that we do not have any mandatory relocation and the fact that we are going to be working with the tenants every step of the way to avoid relocation," Avery told council members.
The staff of the city Community Development Department recommended proceeding with the plan, despite uncertainty over the eligibility for subsidies of the many illegal aliens believed to live in the Bryant-Vanalden tenant area. The Reagan Administration has proposed restricting subsidies to legal residents of the United States.
But Avery told the council that the Administration has delayed implementation of the policy and that it is being challenged in court.
Among those supporting the plan was Councilman Joel Wachs, who has championed renters' rights on the council. Wachs said the plan provides the best opportunity for the council to deal with problems in the Bryant-Vanalden area.
'Going to Rot Away'
"If we don't do this, the buildings are just going to rot away," he said.