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Disabled tenants in Monrovia allowed to stay after Gov. Schwarzenegger intervenes

After reaching an agreement with the complex's owner, the governor tells the good news to nearly two dozen residents at Regency Court Apartments who had received eviction notices.

September 19, 2009|Corina Knoll

It was, like the letters that started it all, hard to believe.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stood in the courtyard of a Monrovia apartment complex Friday and spoke to the developmentally and physically disabled residents who had worried that they were going to lose their homes: "Your eviction notice is being terminated."

He was addressing nearly two dozen disabled residents, some of whom had lived there more than a decade before receiving notices last month that Regency Court Apartments was always meant to be a senior apartment community. Everyone under age 62 should not have been allowed to move in, the letters said, and would have to leave.

Although they had contacted the Housing Rights Center, which filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging discrimination based on age and disability, tenants worried about the looming upheaval of their delicate home lives.

Which is why Frankie Mae Platt, who has lived at the property for 14 years but won't turn 62 until next year, wore an incredulous grin throughout Schwarzenegger's speech.

"We're nobody famous. We're small people in a small town and he stepped up to the plate," she said afterward.

Schwarzenegger said he was inspired to help the tenants after reading about their plight in Thursday's edition of The Times and remembered the words of his mother-in-law, the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Shriver, who died last month, founded the Special Olympics and was an advocate for people with disabilities.

"All of a sudden I heard [her] voice in my ear," Schwarzenegger said. "She says, 'Arnold, why are you sitting around now? You just read the story, do something!' " The governor said he called Star-Holdings, the Illinois-based owner of the property, who agreed not to pursue the lease terminations.

Schwarzenegger posted the good news on his Twitter page Thursday night, but tenants were anxious to hear him announce it in person. Armed with cameras and photos of the former actor, they crowded the governor and nervously offered their gratitude.

"Thanks, Arnold," Sharif Ali, 24, said after showing Schwarzenegger around his upstairs apartment and the Special Olympics medals he earned in swimming.

Ali, like many of his neighbors, is a developmentally disabled graduate of the adult life skills program at Taft College near Bakersfield.

For 10 years, Taft has placed students at Regency Court, which seemed an ideal fit for people seeking independence but in need of safe, low-income housing.

Michelle Uzeta of the Housing Rights Center said Friday that she would be cautiously optimistic until she received an agreement in writing. The complaint against Regency Court will still be pursued, Uzeta said, because she hopes more disabled people will be allowed to move in.

Craig Diamond, an attorney who represents both the owner and the management firm, Professional Property Management, confirmed that there was an agreement made between the governor's office and his clients. He said he anticipated sending something to Uzeta as soon as he learned of the details.

Although Schwarzenegger's action was applauded across L.A. County, some noted it didn't change their views on how the recent state budget cuts affected people with special needs.

"Good for him for stepping in and stopping these evictions," said Marta Escanuelas, executive director of MERCI, a nonprofit headquartered in Monterey Park that provides services to developmentally disabled people. "Now he should reconsider the damage he has allowed that cut or greatly reduced the services the developmentally disabled need."

Escanuelas said MERCI had its $2-million budget cut by 3% in February.

Ken Hixon, whose 25-year-old daughter, Lily, lives at Regency Court, acknowledged that not everyone is so lucky as to receive a government intervention. "What's really scary is what would've happened and what is happening in other places around California where [disabled] people don't know how to organize or get the attention of the press."

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corina.knoll@latimes.com

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