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Tenants Refuse Offer for Free Apartment Rehabilitation

December 15, 1988|RON RUSSELL | Times Staff Writer

When Greg Sanders found out that West Hollywood's housing agency wanted to buy the tattered bungalow apartments where he lives and fix them up for free, he figured Christmas had come early.

"It was like a miracle," he said. "I mean how often does something like this happen?"

He did not count on his neighbors in the 8-unit complex being opposed to the idea.

No Cost to Tenants

Neither did officials of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corp., who have met with resistance from seven tenants since announcing plans to spend $180,000 to rehabilitate the 60-year-old apartments at 1123-1125 N. Detroit St.

The agency, which next month intends to buy the apartments from the owner, wants to make about $25,000 worth of improvements in each of the units, including remodeling kitchens and bathrooms and installing new plumbing and electrical wiring.

Part of the city's second "affordable housing" project since the nonprofit housing corporation was created last year, the improvements would cost tenants nothing. In addition, the corporation has offered to pay for storage and temporary living quarters for the tenants during the two months the work is expected to last.

And, in what Sanders considers to be the best part of the plan, he and his neighbors have been assured that their low rents, subject to West Hollywood's strict rent-control law, will not increase.

But, to the dismay of officials, most of the tenants want nothing of it.

"We don't trust what they're telling us," said Marilyn Adams, among the holdouts who signed a petition opposing the agency's intentions. "Besides, it's not as if this place is a rat hole. I don't think my apartment even needs rehabilitating."

Written Assurances

Tenant Diane Zank agrees. "I think the whole (rehabilitation) thing is a scam," she said.

That kind of rebuff has left city officials shaking their heads.

Paul Zimmerman, the housing corporation's executive director, said officials are trying to think of a way to win over the doubters.

After tenants last month refused to accept his written assurances that they will be allowed to return to their apartments once the work is complete and that the rents, which range from $229 to $350 a month, will not be increased, officials offered to enlist the help of a mediator.

"Our thinking was that maybe (the tenants) would accept the word of some neutral, third party," Zimmerman said.

It didn't work.

"Why do we need a third party to mediate when there's nothing to mediate?" Adams said.

She and some of the others were also unimpressed earlier this month when Mayor Helen Albert visited them in an attempt to explain the agency's plans.

"You talk about looking the gift horse in the mouth. This is more like kicking the gift horse in the mouth," Sanders said. "The entire episode is bizarre."

Adams said she and other tenants were concerned about a request that they sign forms verifying their incomes, "because we think that's an invasion of our privacy."

"I know I don't want them snooping around, calling my employer and my bank to find out how much money I've got. It's just none of anybody's business," she said.

Project Will Proceed

Zimmerman said the forms are necessary "because the state and county need to verify that the money they plan to spend actually goes to help low-income people."

Even so, to speed the process, state officials have already said they will not require "third-party verification," which means the housing corporation will not be required to call the tenants' employers, banks or other entities to verify the information, he said.

Although officials have said the project will proceed, with or without the tenants' cooperation, Zimmerman said his agency "will continue to bend over backward because it is always easier to proceed with this kind of project when you have everyone's cooperation."

"We think we've done about all we know how to do to end the stalemate," he said. "But we're still eager to do anything we can to make them believe."

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