Protests Derail Housing Purchase Plan in Altadena

Times Staff Writer

County officials, saying the effort was all a mistake, have withdrawn a month-old attempt to buy homes here and rent them to low-income families.

The move follows a wave of protests to county officials and to the Altadena Town Council by residents of this 40,500-member unincorporated community.

"We goofed," said John Shirey, acting director of the county Housing Authority. "We have no intention of going into Altadena. Public housing is not the intention there because the area is mostly owner-occupied (75%) and I doubt we could get affordable units."

The protests from residents began after the county sent letters to some area homeowners and placed newspaper advertisements seeking to purchase homes with a minimum of three bedrooms.

'Irate Telephone Calls'

Frank Bridal, chairman of the 14-member Town Council, said he received "irate telephone calls from all over Altadena"--including the predominantly minority west side and the more affluent, white-dominated east side.

Tony Stewart, president of the Altadena chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said residents were generally concerned "that the county's track record is amiss on maintenance of property.

"The county doesn't have the manpower to enforce regulations," Stewart said. "The county as a landlord is too remote. We would get deterioration with absentee landlords and property values could be downgraded. I don't oppose housing for the poor but I question the county as a landlord."

Added Richard Woodward, president of the East Altadena Community Assn.: "It is hard to find property east of Lake Avenue under $100,000. And we are opposed to government-subsidized housing."

Mailing Mistake Blamed

Shirey appeared Tuesday before the Town Council to announce publicly that the county was withdrawing its efforts. He said Altadena was included in the countywide search for homes because of a mailing mistake. He also said the county can spend a maximum of $70,000 on a home purchase--far less than the value of the average home in Altadena.

Shirey said this is the first--and perhaps the only year--the county will have to buy existing housing rather than build new units for low-income people.

The public housing program is 45 years old, Shirey said, "but this year the Reagan Administration changed the regulations so that no new public housing is authorized if the county could find existing housing."

"We have funds to rehabilitate 100 units countywide. In another change, the Administration has targeted assistance to large families because the need is greater, so instead of two-bedroom units, we have to look for three- or four-bedroom units."

Congressional Reaction

But he predicted that adverse congressional reaction to the Reagan Administration changes would probably mean that next year the county could again build new units.

When the county acquires an existing property, it owns and maintains it for 40 years with tenants paying 30% of their income as rent to the county. A family of four would qualify for the program if its annual income was no more than $23,050.

Shirey defended the program as a good way to help the homeless but said, "It is not appropriate in Altadena because the prices are too high and it is a community of owner-occupied homes.

"Absentee owners will be more willing to sell to us and we will rehabilitate the properties. It is a good program in the right areas."

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