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Affordable housing means evictions for some families

Posted: September 11, 2008 10:13 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 
The 67 units at a Canyon Country apartment complex will likely be converted to affordable housing in four to eight months to help local families struggling to pay their rent.

But not everyone is happy about the change.

The Santa Clarita City Council voted this week to loan $2.7 million to a nonprofit group that plans to buy and rehabilitate the Hidaway Apartments in Canyon Country.

An estimated half of the current residents will qualify to stay at the complex, and they will save a considerable amount on rent, said Housing Program Administrator Erin Moore-Lay.
Changing the units to "affordable," however, means an estimated 31 residents will have to find new homes.

Those who don't qualify to stay will be given relocation assistance and funding for 42 months. But one resident said the change will break the sense of community within the complex.

"A lot of people there are already single parents, and a lot of people with disabilities are there," said Brenda Gagnon, a resident of the complex. "The people there now are very much a family community," she told the City Council. "They help each other out."

She said the plan will uproot families and "place them in some other area where their children are going to have to get used to the neighborhood." The change will also "introduce elements that we're not aware of into Hidaway," she said.

Nonprofit group Mercy Housing California plans to purchase the complex and remodel the bathrooms, replace fencing and make other improvements to the 22-year-old complex. The Hidaway Apartments - located near the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Whites Canyon Road - already have 14 affordable units.

Erin Moore-Lay, the city's housing program administrator, said Mercy Housing will rehabilitate the complex in stages and the relocation will not be immediate.

"No one's getting tossed out on the street," she said Thursday.

A relocation company will help displaced residents find new housing, she said.

The residents will also be paid the difference between their current rental rate and the rate of a comparable housing unit.

"It's three-and-a-half years of subsidies that would essentially keep them at the same rent," she said.

The money could also be taken in one lump sum to use on a down payment for a house, she said.

The current owner of the complex is in default on a county loan, Moore-Lay said.

Most of the loan money from the city will come from redevelopment agency housing funds. Although the Canyon Country complex falls outside the redevelopment agency's boundaries - which are restricted to Newhall - the law allows the money to be used in areas that benefit the redevelopment area, she said.

The money will be loaned at a 3 percent interest rate over 30 years.

The city will gain 33 affordable housing units toward its affordable housing requirements.

The Santa Clarita Valley already has about 700 affordable housing units.

About half of the two-bedroom and three-bedroom units will be available for families earning 50 percent of the area median income and the other half for those earning 60 percent.

The affordability restrictions would be in place for 55 years.

Moore-Lay said Mercy Housing will meet with a finance mortgage company on Sept. 18 to prepare to purchase the complex.

She expects escrow to close by the end of October.

Gina Woltman, who works at the Child and Family Center in Saugus, told the council more affordable housing will help local families who can't make ends meet.

She said she works with families who are homeless, "who are living in the streets, on top of buildings, in the wash, or they live with many families in one home.

"Frequently it is necessary to place clients and families outside of Santa Clarita in order for them to have a place to live," she said.

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