BELL GARDENS — As a result of an unusual land swap, officials of the 49-year-old Human Services Assn. will go ahead with a long-awaited plan to build a combined senior housing and social services center along the banks of the Rio Hondo.
"It's been a long time coming," Susanne Sundberg, executive director of the association, said after the announcement that a 2.1-acre strip of John Anson Ford Park will be deeded to operators of the church-founded, nonprofit agency by April. The park is owned by the county.
"We are really very happy that we can count on the property," Sundberg said about the plan to move the agency's headquarters from Ludell Street across town to the park site.
The agency serves about 11,500 elderly and low-income residents in a dozen Southeast communities by providing transportation, meals, legal help and in-home services.
Almost three years ago, HSA officials began searching for a new site after city officials rejected the agency's plan to expand its existing facilities under a $266,000 state grant.
City officials said HSA's facility, owned by the Southern California Synod of the Presbyterian Church, is within the city's largest redevelopment project area. The residential properties in that project are earmarked for eventual conversion to a commercial district.
The city rejection jeopardized the agency's grant money, which was to have been used by last April. Agency officials also feared that they might have to move out of Bell Gardens, where 31% of the agency's clients live.
But at the urging of HSA's Rex M. Dye, the office of County Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman, the Presbyterian Church and Bell Gardens officials worked out a three-step land deal, which was outlined last week during the HSA's annual meeting.
"In a country as rich as we are," Edelman told the HSA board at the meeting, "it doesn't make sense not to provide social services. People need help. They deserve to get it."
Under the agreement, the church will sell the HSA property to the Community Redevelopment Agency for $625,000, the fair market value under the state's condemnation laws. In turn, the county will sell the undeveloped section of the park to the Redevelopment Agency for a nominal fee. Then the Presbyterian Church will purchase the new parcel from the Redevelopment Agency to build a new social services facility. The park area's price will be determined after a series of Redevelopment Agency public hearings, officials said.
The Presbyterian Church founded HSA in 1940. The agency, which operates with a $1.2-million-a-year budget, also receives funding from United Way and the Los Angeles County Area Agency on Aging.
'Meeting of the Minds'
"We were not sure that it (the land deal) would happen," said Dye, a former HSA director who retired last summer to coordinate the project. "But we finally had a meeting of the minds on this."
State officials have also agreed to extend for another year the deadline for the agency to use the grant money.
The construction funds available from the state grant and the profit from the Ludell Street sale should finance about 80% of the proposed new social services center, Dye said. The rest would have to come from fund-raising efforts.