Mormon Church officials in Glendale on Tuesday offered two months free rent to about 80 low-income tenants as an inducement to accept eviction from an apartment complex that the church bought and plans to demolish to expand its facilities.
But the renters, most of whom are senior citizens on fixed incomes, said they would fight to stay in their homes.
The residents of 55 of the 93 Village Court Apartments in the 1100 block of North Central Avenue next to the Mormon Church, received eviction notices last week, one week after the city approved the church's expansion plans. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plans to demolish the 55 apartments to enlarge its building and add a parking lot.
Last week the church offered the tenants 120 days to move, one month's free rent and free use of a rental relocation service. The tenants responded by hiring an attorney to oppose the evictions.
On Tuesday, both sides met on church property over cookies and fruit punch. Glendale's Mormon Church leader told about 20 tenants that the church was adding a second month of free rent for all tenants who agree to leave by Nov. 1 and are "cooperative and deal with us in good spirit."
Tad Callister, the top-ranking Mormon Church official in Glendale, told the tenants: "I think the church is going the extra mile to be fair, don't you?"
He said the tenants had rights, but church members had rights too. Many elderly churchgoers and young mothers with children had to park several blocks away because of inadequate parking facilities, he said.
"For them, it's inconvenient and unsafe. These people have a right to spiritual shelter and spiritual food. They are entitled."
The tenants, however, were not impressed. They asked Callister where they could find comparable apartments in the $400 to $500 range, which is what they had been paying at Village Court.
"I receive $600 a month from Social Security," said an elderly woman sitting in the front row. "Where can I find a nice place I can afford?"
Callister replied that the relocation agency would be able to answer that.
He contended that it was the church's own kindness that led to the very problems it faces today.
Before the church purchased the apartment complex in 1986, the rents had been raised every year, Callister said. But since the church purchased the complex, he said, "we never raised the rent, for one reason and one reason only: to help accommodate the residents whom we knew would have to move."
Had the church continued raising rents in the same fashion, he added, tenants would have no problem finding comparable housing because they would already be paying higher rents.
'Double Rents Every Year'
"From an apartment manager's perspective, the best way to evict tenants is to double rents every year and serve 30-day eviction notices," said Village Court manager John Hansen. "The church is getting hit for its own kindness."
After the meeting, two tenants said they were encouraged by the church's new offer, but were not ready to give in.
"I think the majority of us want to stay. That's a foregone conclusion," said Wayne Westand. "We're happy to see the church make another concession, but we are still going to appeal the evictions."
Rick Burns, 40, who was also served with an eviction notice, added: "There is a great deal of fear and anxiety among the tenants. The discussion needs to continue. There might be another alternative for the tenants that want to stay."
Tony Rodriguez, the tenants' attorney, said he will appeal the negative environmental impact report filed before the city's zoning commission.
"The environment is more than air and water," he said. "It has to do with other aspects like traffic and housing. I'm concerned about the depletion of the city's already small affordable housing stock."
Rodriguez also said he would look into the possibility that the evictions violate the housing provisions of the city's General Plan, which calls for more affordable housing.
'More Than What's Fair'
Callister countered: "The church is not in a spirit of negotiation. We will consider individual requests, but at this point I think we've offered more than what's fair."
Two members of the Greater Glendale Council on Aging, a citywide organization of senior citizen groups, attended the meeting, but were noncommittal.
"It sounds to me like a fair proposition, but I'm not in a position to make a statement one way or another," said council official Frederik Pelletier.
"The church has gone to great lengths--more than any developer would--to accommodate the tenants," said Claude Brown, another council official. "But eviction is a tough thing to accept. . . . I'm confident that both sides can work something out."
Jess Durand, assistant director of the city's Department of Community Development, said the church had satisfied all city requirements and has the right to evict the tenants.
"The tenants are trying to make a linkage between the city's need to build more affordable housing" identified in the General Plan "and a developer's plan to tear down a building that provides affordable housing. That connection, in my mind, just isn't there," Durand said.