Caltrans will begin selling homes along the 710 Freeway corridor

Transportation officials have begun the painstaking process of selling hundreds of houses acquired decades ago for a Los Angeles County freeway project that was never built.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Caltrans began buying empty lots, houses and apartments along the planned route of the 710 Freeway extension between Pasadena and Alhambra.

But decades of litigation and legislation stalled the 6.2-mile project before construction could begin, leaving transportation officials as landlords for 460 structures. The properties, most of which are occupied, range from modest cottages in El Sereno to Craftsman mansions on stately streets in South Pasadena. 

Caltrans officials mailed preliminary information Friday to the tenants of the 42 properties that will be sold first, spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said. Tenants have three months to respond to the agency if they have any interest in buying their homes. 

Former owners and current tenants who meet certain income requirements would have the first chance to buy, Caltrans said. 

Under a state law passed in 1979, low-income renters will receive a sale price below the market rate, as will tenants who make less than 150% of the county's median income, which translates to $68,025 for a single person and $97,200 for a family of four.

“The idea is to keep tenants in the homes that they currently rent, and provide them a path toward homeownership,” Wonder said. 

After the current qualifying tenants, the next potential buyers would be affordable housing development companies, then current tenants above the income thresholds who can pay the market rate, then former tenants in reverse order of occupancy. After that, the properties will be sold at public auction.

Caltrans has hired a real estate company to assess each property. Sale prices “would never go lower than what Caltrans originally paid,” Wonder said. Beyond that, she said, “it will really depend on each individual situation.”

The average home price in Los Angeles County is currently $542,600, according to the real estate website Zillow. Many of the 460 homes could fetch considerably more than that.

The sale has sparked concern among some tenants who would not qualify for subsidized sales prices and would not be able to afford market-rate prices that could exceed $1 million. 

One house entering the sale process is a white four-bedroom, two-story home in South Pasadena that Caltrans acquired in 1975 for $83,600, according to agency data. Every home on Prospect Circle is now worth seven figures, according to Zillow. 

The profits from the sales will be given to a state affordable housing program, Wonder said. 

Anyone who buys a Caltrans house at a below-market price will be required to return the amount of the agency’s original purchase  to the state when the home is sold again, she said.

The sale process for the first 42 homes could take a year, Wonder said. The remaining 418 homes will not be sold for at least a year, depending on what option Caltrans eventually selects for the long-stalled 710 project. 

Transportation officials ruled out all above-ground options in 2015, but are still considering a light-rail line, a bus rapid-transit system or a $5.6-billion set of double-decker freeway tunnels to link Alhambra and Pasadena. 

The 710 is a favored route for truckers shuttling between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and distribution centers in the central county. Today, the route ends abruptly, dumping heavy truck traffic onto Valley Boulevard in Alhambra.

The project received $780 million from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax for transportation projects the county electorate approved in 2008.

laura.nelson@latimes.com

For more transportation news, follow @laura_nelson on Twitter.

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