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Rentals That Seniors Can Afford : Public-Private Program Provides No-Frills Apartments in Established Neighborhoods

September 17, 1989|DAVID M. KINCHEN | Times Staff Writer

After years of living in their own house in Monrovia, Chester and Charlotte Owens are renting a two-bedroom apartment in Heritage Park Monrovia, one of the latest efforts to provide affordable housing for senior citizens in the Southland.

"We're close to shopping and medical care and the friends we made during the years we lived in Monrovia," Chester Owens said. Added Charlotte: "This apartment has everything we want, in a neighborhood we know and like."

Maggie Fox, 76, lived in a mobile-home park before moving to Heritage Park Monrovia. She wanted the freedom from maintenance that's part of apartment living.

"I got tired of the expense of repairs and the yard work," Fox said. "I decided to become a renter after seeing the clubhouse and pool at Heritage Park."

Heritage Park Monrovia is the first phase of a public-private effort to fill a major housing gap--affordable apartments for senior citizens priced out of the Southland rental market.

Developed by the nonprofit Corporate Fund for Housing (CFH) of Culver City, Heritage Park Monrovia provides no-frills rental units in a setting that is virtually indistinguishable from market-rate projects, according to CFH President Fred Kahane.

Besides the 241-unit Heritage Park Monrovia project, where the monthly rental range is $380 to $670, CFH is opening a 149-unit complex this week in Diamond Bar and is developing three other projects for residents 62 and older that will provide a total of 845 rental units, Kahane said.

Because the projects are in areas (Monrovia; Diamond Bar; Whittier, 169 units; La Verne, 85 units, and Lakewood, 201 units) where market rents are at or below low-income rents, all of the units will remain affordable, he said.

About half the units in the five projects will be for low-income seniors--those who earn 80% of the median annual income--with the rest available at moderate rents. Basically, the income range of tenants is between $15,000 and $20,400 a year, Kahane said.

The Corporate Fund for Housing was formed in 1985 with a grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and with the assistance of Mark Pisano, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG).

"SCAG studies showed us that creative solutions had to be developed for senior and low-income housing, so we formed CFH," Kahane said.

"Southern California has a chronic shortage of affordable rental housing, reflected in a countywide vacancy rate of about 2%, compared to the 4% to 7% rate of a healthy housing market," he said.

"With SCAG's help, CFH was formed to fill the gap left by the winding down of federal housing developments."

Turned to Bond Issues

CFH's board chairman is William F. McKenna, partner emeritus of the Los Angeles law firm of McKenna, Conner & Cuneo, and board members includes Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, former U.S. Sen. John Tunney and developer Ray Watt.

Kahane said that with most incentives to provide funding for non-subsidized senior citizen rental housing eliminated by the 1986 Tax Reform Act, CFH turned to bond issues to finance its senior housing.

After working with the Los Angeles County Housing Authority for almost a year, CFH last summer got authority for a $57.5-million county bond issue to develop the five apartment projects.

The builder of the projects, Calmark Development Corp., chose the locations. All are in-fill sites in close-in communities that need affordable rental housing, Kahane said. The parcels of land also were relatively affordable, he said, permitting below-market rents.

Since 1977, Calmark has built more than 5,000 affordable senior housing units in California under its Heritage Park program. More than 2,500 units (including the CFH's 845 units) are either in the planning or construction stages, according to Calmark senior vice president Michael Costa.

Costs Kept Down

Rents will be kept affordable in all five projects by state and federal restrictions and CFH's nonprofit status. Local governments--cities and counties--help by providing trade-offs in the form of reduced parking requirements, higher densities and land cost write-downs to the developer to help keep costs down.

Calmark realizes its profit in the sale of the project to the local nonprofit housing corporation and charges a fee for managing the units.

All five CFH projects were designed by architect Kermit Dorius of Corona del Mar as clusters of two-story walk-up buildings, updated and restyled from designs common throughout Southern California since the 1940s and 1950s.

Dorius is experienced in designing housing for seniors and has done virtually all of Calmark's projects, according to Kevin Payne of Calmark.

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