LAGUNA BEACH — Federal housing authorities on Monday approved a plan to convert a General Telephone & Electric building here into 24 low-cost apartments for people infected with the AIDS virus, said a consultant to the nonprofit organization spearheading the project.
"This is probably the most creative housing project in Orange County," City Councilman Robert F. Gentry said. "It brings together funds from federal and local government and begins to meet a housing need that is critical for those who have HIV in Orange County."
Reed Flory, financial consultant to Affordable Housing Projects of Orange County Inc. which will develop the housing, said approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development came just in time, because the purchase option on the concrete building at Mermaid and 3rd streets would have expired June 1.
Flory said that now, to meet an HUD-imposed deadline, the two-story building, with a basement used for parking, must be converted into apartments that will be ready for occupancy in a year. Flory said although HUD, the cities of Santa Ana and Laguna Beach and the county of Orange previously agreed to help fund the project, it was extremely difficult to find a location that met zoning codes and budget constraints and was close enough to services such as shopping and public transportation. The GTE building, he said, was the fifth site considered for the project.
"We have looked at sites ranging from foreclosed buildings along (Coast Highway) to hotels and motels and vacant parcels," he said Monday. HUD's approval was essential, he said. "Until today we didn't have a project."
Gentry said many HIV-infected people are too disabled to work but can take care of themselves for many years before they die of the disease. The housing project will not be a hospice for the dying but instead will be designed for people capable of "independent living," Flory said.
With 350 diagnosed cases of AIDS in its population, Laguna Beach is the most AIDS-impacted city in the county, Gentry said.
Donna Fleming, director of social services for AIDS Services Foundation, said "about 70% of the clients we work with are living on a monthly income of about $600 or less" in disability support, while the average one-bedroom apartment in the county rents for $700.
If the 24 one-bedroom apartments in the new project are not all rented to HIV-infected people, they could be rented to low-income people with other disabilities, Flory said.
The Irvine-based AIDS Services Foundation and Housing for Independent Persons, a San Jose group, co-sponsored the HUD housing application, which was submitted to the federal agency in September.
HUD will provide the largest portion of funds for the project, Flory said, including $1.8 million for acquisition and rehabilitation of the GTE building and $1.6 million in rental subsidies. No tenant, he said, will pay rent equivalent to more than 30% of their gross adjusted income, and the monthly rents are expected to average $250.
In addition to HUD funding, he said, the project will receive $650,000 from Laguna Beach, $500,000 from Santa Ana and $236,000 from the county. He said plans for the former GTE office building, which will be purchased for $1.4 million, include selling one floor of parking to the city.