A plan to clean up a crime-ridden, run-down area of otherwise fashionable Northridge has led to the relocation of many low-income residents, mostly Latinos, despite promises by city officials that they could remain.
Dozens of current and former residents of the Bryant Street-Vanalden Avenue area say they were told they would have to pay higher rents if they remained in the neighborhood after the renovation was complete.
They also were told they could receive government rent subsidies if they moved elsewhere. But they say they were not told they could use the subsidies to remain in the renovated Bryant-Vanalden units, as promised.
Spokesmen for the project developer, Devinder (Dave) Vadehra, denied that any tenants were forced out improperly. They said tenants moved because they were confused.
"I'm pretty sure that that is a misunderstanding," said Raman R. Nayer, vice president of Vadehra's company.
The renovation plan was approved by the City Council and Mayor Tom Bradley in November, 1986. It was the second proposal for a cluster of 60 apartment buildings in a three-block area, which has long been criticized for introducing crime and unsightly conditions into the surrounding predominantly middle-class community.
The first plan, proposed by the area's councilman, Hal Bernson, sought to make it easier to evict the 3,000 predominantly low-income Latinos who lived there in order to "bring in a new class of tenants." It was scrapped after civil rights and tenant groups protested that it was racist and Bradley threatened to veto it.
In its place, Bernson sponsored the second plan, providing for the city to issue $20.8 million in tax-exempt bonds and lend another $4.2 million to Vadehra to buy and fix up 453 apartments in the neighborhood.
A key point in the second plan was a public assurance by Bernson and Vadehra that low-income tenants who wanted to stay in their apartments could because of the opportunity to receive government rent subsidies to pay the higher rents of the new units. A renovated three-bedroom apartment will rent for $775 a month.
One year later, at least 355 families have moved from the area and about one-fourth of the apartments are now vacant. The principal of Napa Street Elementary School, which serves the Bryant-Vanalden area, reported the largest drop in enrollment ever in September--a loss of 112 pupils.
"I asked them if I could stay here and they said no, I had to move," said Joaquin Hernandez. "I don't have any other choice."
Amelia Castro, a former Bryant-Vanalden tenant who moved across the San Fernando Valley, said the relocation disrupted her family life and has hurt her husband's work as a self-employed gardener.
"If they would have given us the opportunity, of course we would have stayed," Castro said of her old neighborhood.
Tenants who remain in Bryant-Vanalden have called a meeting for tonight to protest. "Many people don't know what their rights are and they want to fight," said Berta Rueda, a tenant who helped organize the meeting.
The confusion has not been limited to tenants.
Although the developer's representatives now say that any tenants who want to remain in Bryant-Vanalden can do so, they told the Los Angeles Times a month ago that they were restricting the number of units available to families with rent subsidies.
Vadehra aide Nayer said in an interview that only 91 units would be available to families with rent subsidies provided under a federal program known as Section 8. Two other Vadehra company officials at the interview did not dispute the statement.
"We have enough Section 8 for them to move elsewhere," Nayer said. "But we only have enough Section 8 for 91 units here."
Questioned the next day about Nayer's statement, Ralph Esparza, director of the Community Development Department's housing division, said there was no limit on the number of rent-subsidized tenants who could remain at Bryant-Vanalden.
Minutes after the interview with Esparza, Nayer called The Times to say he had been mistaken, that there is no limit. Nayer said that even though he was mistaken, the developer's representatives have told tenants that they can remain at Bryant-Vanalden.
Nayer said tenants also were told that as part of the plan, they were eligible to apply for a special allotment of Section 8 assistance. Low-income residents usually must wait a year or longer for Section 8 subsidies. Under the program, tenants pay 30% of their income toward rent and the government pays the rest.
They were told the subsidies could be applied immediately to units outside Bryant-Vanalden, where larger, more comfortable apartments were available, Nayer said. If they wanted to remain, they would have to wait up to a year for units to be renovated because the Section 8 money could not be used on the existing apartments, he said.
"That's probably what they did not understand," Nayer said. "It was probably too complicated."