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Making Cerritos Affordable : Housing: Leaders in a city of $400,000 homes express little enthusiasm for a state mandate for low-cost houses.


CERRITOS — Council members of this meticulously planned community--where the color of exterior house paint is regulated and most homes cost $300,000 to $400,000--are scheduled tonight to begin discussing proposals to provide low- and moderate-income housing.

But council members have so far expressed little enthusiasm for the task, which is mandated by state law.

For one thing, vacant land available for residential construction is vanishing. Just 29 acres of vacant land remain in the city's residential zones. The most recent new houses to be built in the city sold for about $700,000, officials said.

In addition, such housing carries a negative public image. "When (people) think of affordable housing," said Bruce Barrows, chairman of the city's Planning Commission, "they think of things done 20 years ago that (were) massive failures."

Barrows has given the council a list of ideas for such housing to discuss at its meeting tonight, including having the city build moderately priced homes or buy up smaller, older houses and resell them at prices that such wage earners as firefighters, police officers and teachers can afford.

Cerritos and other cities are required by state law to set aside for such housing 20% of their yearly revenues from redevelopment property taxes. If a city fails to meet the requirement, its money will be spent on housing projects in other cities.

The law was passed in 1986, but Cerritos and many other cities were allowed to delay their programs until 1995.

The council is scheduled to address the issue tonight for the first time.

Barrows acknowledged that his ideas are sketchy because both he and Cerritos are just beginning to grapple with the complexities of what everyone is careful to call "affordable housing," rather than "low- and moderate-income housing," which he said carries a more negative connotation.

But affordable is a relative term, given the prices here. Barrows said he is talking about people who earn about $35,000 a year, which might qualify them for a mortgage of about $100,000.

On the market in Cerritos, however, there are just five houses that cost $219,000 to $245,000, and they are all two-bedroom homes, said real estate agent Carol Rayburn of the Inland Pacific Century 21 office.

About 100 houses on the market are priced from $300,000 to $400,000, and 25 houses carry price tags from $400,000 to 500,000, Rayburn said.

With its extensive commercial redevelopment areas, Cerritos could easily have $500,000 a year to spend on housing, said Dennis Davis, director of environmental affairs for the city and chief of city planning.

Barrows pointed to La Mirada as an example of a city meeting the need for affordable housing. In June, La Mirada held a lottery to determine who of 700 people got a chance to buy 45 new condominiums. The city paid the market price for the condos, then sold them at reduced prices.

One of the most controversial ideas Barrows is offering to the council is to rezone some of the Towne Center Land for city-sponsored housing. Towne Center, along the Artesia Freeway at Bloomfield Avenue, is the city's last tract of open redevelopment land.

The idea is bound to bring objections, however, from city administrators, who strongly objected when the council considered allowing the YMCA to build there, saying such a project would cut into potential property and sales tax revenues.

One of the most compelling reasons to consider a city-sponsored plan for such housing, officials said, is that young people who grew up in Cerritos cannot afford to return and buy houses here.

Barrows and other public officials agreed that most homeowners who live in Cerritos now could not afford to buy houses here today.

"I couldn't, no way," said Councilman Paul Bowlen, a high school teacher who bought his house.

"What's going on," Barrows said, "is that when people move out, (the house) goes to a higher-income family."

Bowlen said he is interested in talking about Barrows' ideas, but the councilman was quick to add: "I'm not committed to anything. Right now, it's just in the speculative phase."

Councilman Sherman Kappe said he is interested too.

However, he acknowledged, "I don't hear a lot of groundswell support from the community that we should have affordable housing."

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