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Housing Scramble Shows Armenian Community Needs

June 15, 1989|DONNELL ALEXANDER | Times Staff Writer

When push came to shove, this week's crunch to sign up for low-cost housing proved to be a "real indicator" of Glendale's need to serve the city's rapidly growing Armenian community, a city official said.

In two days of registration, more than 3,000 applications for rentals subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development were handed out to a portion of the Glendale community that is mostly made up of recent immigrants from Soviet Armenia. Many of the rentals may not be available for as long as five years.

Police were called to registration sites, and two people who fainted were treated by paramedics Monday after crowds surged against the buildings where applications were being dispensed. The crowd's impatience is thought to have been based on the belief that applications were accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

"We've been feeling the influx of Soviet Armenian immigration, and this is partially a result of that," said Madalyn Blake, director of the city's Community Development and Housing Department.

"We need a more streamlined system" for registering immigrants for housing, she added.

Growing Need

This week's incident only proved what is all too well-known in Blake's office, which monitors the Glendale Unified School District for information on student population growth: There is an immediate and growing need for housing in Glendale, and many of the would-be recipients don't hail from the city.

Because of the income requirements, most of Glendale's HUD recipients are recent immigrants and senior citizens on fixed incomes. Since the Soviet government relaxed its emigration policies in October, 1987, an average of 2,000 Soviet Armenians a month have settled in Southern California, most in Glendale and Hollywood, Los Angeles County refugee coordinator Joan Pinchuck said.

Most of the immigrants initially reside with relatives, according to Diana Aslanian, a social worker with the Armenian Relief Society. "If they don't have close family members, they won't come over," Aslanian said. "They can't get a visa."

Aslanian said immigrants and their families live together, sometimes with as many as three families in one home. These cramped living conditions continue until the immigrants learn English, find employment and become familiar with the city.

Demand for subsidized housing is high among the immigrant community because "rents are high and refugees with just public assistance can't afford them," Aslanian said.

More Than 3,000

After this week's applications are tallied, the number of people waiting for federally subsidized housing in Glendale will stand at more than 3,000.

Discounting this week's as-yet uncounted applications, there are 1,400 people on the city's waiting list.

The number of subsidized rental units available is 916, according to the Community Development and Housing Department.

Although still many fewer than the number of applicants, the number of rentals available has almost doubled in the past five years. The city had 490 units to offer in the 1984-85 fiscal year and only a few more during 1985-86.

In 1986-87, rental units increased to 580 and in 1987-88 to 700.

Blake said the increase occurred because HUD has made more housing money available to cities. Communities taking part in HUD programs pay the rent of qualifiers and are then reimbursed by the federal government.

The waiting list shortens only when subsidy recipients move out of the units or new units are added. "At any given time, 5% are open," Blake said. "The turnover is fairly slow."

Unless a HUD recipient moves out of the area or into a higher income bracket, he continues to receive aid and the list remains clogged. To qualify for a subsidy and have 70% of his rent paid by the federal government, an applicant must meet specific income requirements.

For example, a single person can make no more than $13,950 a year to qualify, and a family of four's combined income cannot exceed $19,950.

While the number of federally subsidized rentals has increased steadily, it hasn't kept pace with the number of applicants. According to Blake, it probably never will.

"Not in Southern California," she said. "It goes back to the housing market here. Land costs are high and rent cost is high."

Blake and the Armenian Relief Society are planning to work more closely together in an effort to make the housing crunch less difficult to deal with.

Aslanian said she hopes that by the next HUD registration period, she and city representatives can discuss specifics of the program, allowing her group to take information back to the Armenian community and disseminate it in the immigrants' language.

This year, information was disseminated via English-only flyers, the relief society and word of mouth. Misinformation or no information were the results of a limited amount of direct discussion, Aslanian said.

"Some people came just because they heard the city was helping people. They didn't know what," Aslanian said. "Next time we'll sit down with the city and it will work out easier."

One gesture that the city has made to reach out to the immigrant community is holding HUD registration in parks and Glendale's Adult Recreation Center. In the past, City Hall had been the primary location.

"We have a chance to provide residents an opportunity to apply in their own neighborhood," said Ray Vargas, Glendale's housing program manager. "These people might not go to City Hall."

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