Counterplan Offered for Senior Homes

Times Staff Writer

In a continuing effort to prevent construction of a four-story housing complex for the elderly in Old Downtown Torrance, a community group is proposing that the city purchase 26 three-bedroom houses to accommodate the senior citizens.

John Geyer, a spokesman for the Save Torrance Committee, a loosely organized group of Old Downtown homeowners and merchants formed in part to combat the housing project, said his proposal would enable the city to build equity in the homes, allow for lower rents and provide a profit for the city in the long run.

But city officials say they have not even evaluated the proposal, submitted to the city Planning Department on Feb. 4, and do not intend to do so unless directed by the City Council. Council observers say that seems unlikely at this point.

Geyer said he intends to bring the issue before the City Council on Tuesday.

City-Approved Project

In December, the City Council approved a four-story, 78-unit structure for the elderly on city-owned property on El Prado and Cravens Avenue--over the objections of some neighboring residents who said the building would be the first four-story structure in the oldest section of the city. The Planning Department had recommended a smaller project, a three-story, 56-unit building.

The council at that time also approved plans for a three-story, 36-unit housing complex for the elderly on 226th Street. There has not been any homeowner opposition to that project.

Councilman Bill Applegate, who had initially opposed the four-story project but reluctantly went along with the majority vote, said he did not know enough about the community group's alternative to comment on it.

Geyer is proposing that three senior citizens be placed in each of 26 three-bedroom houses. The houses have not been selected, but Geyer said real estate dealers have told him that such dwellings are available throughout the city for about $150,000 each, or a total of about $3.9 million.

Suggested Formula

He is suggesting that the city sell the land on El Prado for $500,000 and use $1.5 million in redevelopment tax revenues to buy the houses. The $1.5 million is money that the city has set aside to help reduce rents at the housing complex. Geyer said the remaining $1.9 million needed to purchase the homes could be obtained in a loan (with a 10.5% interest rate) and repaid from the monthly rent, which he said could be as low as $320.

The developer will invest $2.6 million in the four-story structure and has projected that monthly rents will be $420 without city assistance. The city will lease the land to the developer at a minimal rate.

Geyer is an Old Downtown homeowner and merchant whose accountant helped prepare the financial projections. Under his proposal, over a 50-year period, the city could retain at least its initial $3.9 million investment in equity and net nearly $7 million profit from rents, he said.

"This is really just shared housing. The 1980s word for that is having a roommate," Geyer said. "If it's good enough for students or those just getting started in careers, then it should be good enough for seniors. We're not asking the seniors to do anything that we wouldn't do."

Derf Fredericks, a member of the Olde Torrance Neighbors, a civic pride group, said his group has not officially supported Geyer's proposal, but he said most residents in the area still oppose the housing project.

Good Idea on Surface

"I don't know if (Geyer's) plan is the answer," he said, "but on the surface it sounds like the better idea."

City Manager LeRoy Jackson, however, said the city is not a "housing authority," and even if the city wanted to become a landlord, it could not do so without voter approval.

Larry Gitschier, vice chairman of the Senior Citizens Council, said the proposal is too late to be seriously considered.

"(Geyer) has a good idea, but it's too bad it came late," Gitschier said. "Besides, we've been fighting for 10 years to get some senior citizen housing, and we are not going to give it up now."

Gerald Alter of Alter Realty in Old Downtown, a former planning commissioner, said 26 three-bedroom houses at $150,000 each could probably be found in the Old Downtown area. But, he said, that would not solve the housing problem for the elderly.

"All you're doing is taking those houses off the market," he said. "What the city is doing is increasing the housing stock."

Developer Not Surprised

The developer, Thomas Safran, said he is not surprised by the continued opposition to his project. Safran said his company, Thomas Safran & Associates of Los Angeles, has developed about 20 housing projects for the elderly throughout Los Angeles County and has faced opposition from residents until the projects are built.

"Once they are completed, there is strong acceptance," Safran said. "We respect everybody's views and their right to disagree. But it has been my experience that seniors prefer one of two things: either a building such as the one we are proposing or rent assistance for the place they are currently living in."

Negotiations are continuing between the city and the developer over a lease agreement on the property. The city has not decided whether the $1.5 million in tax revenues will be used as a direct rent subsidy or to help defray the cost of construction.

Safran said that if negotiations are completed on schedule, ground could be broken this fall and residents could move in 12 to 16 months after that.

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