LONG BEACH — Edith McCabe stays one step ahead of the wrecking ball.
Twice before, her low-cost Long Beach apartments have been razed in the name of redevelopment. Both times, she said she was given a check to cover relocation costs.
Now, the three-story brick apartment house on West 3rd Street where McCabe has lived for nearly two years is being demolished to make way for a big upscale apartment and business complex. But since the project falls outside of the redevelopment or coastal zone, the law did not require relocation checks to displaced tenants.
With dim prospects of finding another unit that rents for $200 a month and lacking cash for deposits, McCabe said she thought she would become homeless.
"It entered my mind that if I was going to have to go out on the street, I'd kill myself," she said. "I don't think I'd be out there two days. I'd be dead."
She Decided to Fight
McCabe decided to fight. With the help of the Legal Aid Foundation of Long Beach, McCabe and the 10 other residents of the musty building won a victory before the city Planning Commission last week that could set an example for future residents being forced to move in the wake of progress.
The commission ordered Westco Development of Torrance to pay relocation costs to each tenant before building the new 160-unit apartment and retail complex. The commission discussed a figure of $2,500 for each resident, but the final amount was left open to negotiation.
"It's not happened before in Long Beach in exactly this way," city Zoning Administrator Dennis Eschen said about the award of relocation fees.
If the apartment building was on the south side of 3rd Street, instead of the north side, it would have fallen into the city's downtown redevelopment zone. Residents could have received $4,000 or more to cover their relocation costs.
If the apartments had been converted to condominiums, they would have had to remain affordable to the people who already rented there.
If the apartments were in the coastal zone--a narrow swath running along the beachfront--the developer would have had to build or contribute to a fund for low-cost housing elsewhere.
But the aging building at 221 West 3rd St. did not fit into any of those categories. And its residents might have been out of luck, except that the developer needed city approval to build 92 units more than would normally be allowed.
When a developer applies for "bonus density," the city can require changes that benefit the public. For its part, Westco had planned to build a 5,000-square-foot community room, an off-site bus shelter, a general storage and secured bicycle storage areas and extra parking spaces.
The Legal Aid Foundation, representing the residents, demanded that the developer do more. Dennis Rockway, the foundation's senior counsel, asked the commission to require Westco to make 25% of the units available to low-income people.
"This is a classic situation in which low-income housing is being eliminated for the production of higher-income housing with absolutely no regard for the low-income tenants," he said before learning of the commission's ruling. The foundation filed suit last June charging that the city is not meeting its legal obligation to promote and preserve low-income housing.
The compensation stipulated by the commission represents a victory for the residents, Rockway said, but more needs to be done to protect low-income housing.
"This will ease the pain of the particular tenants being displaced but it will do nothing to reverse the trend being carried out by our local government which is to encourage the removal of low-income housing," he said.
There's no question in McCabe's mind whether she would rather have new quarters or a check for $2,500. She said without hesitation, "I'd rather have the money."
She said she likes her single apartment on the second floor overlooking an alley. Sure, the buses can be noisy pulling into the station next door, but she said she is not bothered by them once she falls asleep. McCabe, 60, said medical problems have left her virtually disabled. She scrapes by on $280 in welfare and $66 in food stamps a month.
That leaves very little to cover moving expenses, she said, adding that her search so far has yielded no affordable apartments.
"The cheapest one that I have found is $300 and they go up to $350 or $375" a month. "Most places want first- and last-month (rents). You're probably looking at $1,000 just to get in."
In the past, she said her apartments were in redevelopment areas that made her eligible for relocation benefits when they were torn down. The benefits provided enough up-front money so that she could find a new unit.
First, there was the place near 1st Street and Locust Avenue where she lived in 1980. She said she received $4,250 to relocate.