Federal housing officials say Beverly Hills can give preference to its residents in assigning 150 units of public housing, despite an earlier ruling that such favoritism would be discriminatory.
The decision last month by Samuel R. Pierce, secretary of the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, angered many of the nearly 400 applicants who heard the news for the first time Tuesday in the crowded Roxbury Park Auditorium, where they had come in the hopes of hearing their numbers called in the city's highly publicized lottery for apartments. The local HUD office had ruled earlier that giving preference to Beverly Hills residents was discriminatory and unfair.
Beverly Hills residents are assured of 70% of the units, or 105 apartments, in the Beverly Hills Senior Citizen Housing Project, 225 N. Crescent Drive. Only 45 apartments will be made available for senior citizens and the handicapped from outside the community.
Many in Audience Left
Separate drawings were conducted for Beverly Hills residents and non-residents at the lottery. Many in the audience left when they discovered that they were competing for only 40 apartments.
"Our federal taxes are going to pay for this project, too," said Adele Marshall, a senior citizen applying for one of the apartments. "It is not fair that they are getting special treatment when our money pays for the building, too."
The city's special request was brought to Pierce's desk last month after the Los Angeles HUD office had rejected it. HUD previously had rejected similar requests for special preference by Montebello, Culver City and Santa Monica.
However, Beverly Hills enlisted the help of former HUD Secretary Carla Anderson Hills, a one-time Beverly Hills resident and now an attorney.
"Beverly Hills has a few friends in high places," said a project official about Hills, who served under President Gerald R. Ford.
City officials asked for special consideration because they feared that local elderly and handicapped residents would have slim chances of getting apartments if their names were thrown in the same hopper with the overwhelming number of applicants from outside Beverly Hills.
More than 2,600 applications were submitted for the project, with about 200 coming from Beverly Hills residents. Because of the 70% set-aside, a Beverly Hills applicant had about a 50% chance being picked for a unit. An applicant outside the community had about a 2% chance.
The low number of Beverly Hills applicants surprised city officials, who had estimated at the time that they applied for the federal program that there were 1,500 eligible households in the city.
"The reason why they did not apply is a mystery to me," said Irwin Kaplan, city planning director.
Mayor Benjamin Stansbury said the city had a difficult time convincing the federal government that there was a need for public housing in a community considered one of the most affluent in the nation.
To be eligible, an applicant must be at least 62 years old or handicapped. Residents are required to pay about 30% of their income for rent. Income limits are $12,550 for one person and $14,350 for two. The units are expected to be ready for occupancy in August.
Under the HUD program, the Beverly Hills Senior Citizen Housing Corp., which owns the property, was awarded a $9.4-million low-interest loan for the building. The project also will receive $1.2 million a year for 20 years in rent subsidies from the federal government.
Plans for the project date back to voter approval in a 1979 referendum. The city rezoned the property and provided space for the site over an underground city parking garage. The city also subsidized a market for the project and underwrote amenities that the federal government would not pay for, such as bay windows, a water fountain, skylights, balconies and a brick finish on the building.
Jack Flynn, a spokesman for HUD in Washington, said that Beverly Hills was granted preference because the federal government needed to "encourage other communities" to make the kind of commitment to the program made by Beverly Hills.
But HUD officials in Los Angeles, angered by Pierce's decision to overrule them, pointed out that Beverly Hills can afford such commitments. "They have the money to build the project without federal monies," one official said.
Harm to Minorities
Another HUD official warned that the set-aside for Beverly Hills would hinder minorities seeking public housing because of the city's small minority population. Project officials said that 10% of the applicants from Beverly Hills indicated on the application that they were minorities.
Carla Anderson Hills, who represented the city, disagreed. Beverly Hills officials "are perfectly willing to have minorities in the housing units," she said. "They just want them to be Beverly Hills minorities."
U. S. Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park), whose district includes Montebello, where HUD last year denied a similar request for preferential treatment for residents, was incensed at Pierce's action.
"How can Beverly Hills get away with that?" he said. "Montebello put money into its project, every community puts money into its project. This is an out-and-out case of a double standard. We made exactly the same case on the same basis, but we were turned down. What do they play by, different rules on different sides of town, for different economic groups?"
The losers in Tuesday's lottery also said it was not fair.
"Frankly, if i had known that 70% were going to Beverly Hills residents, I would not have come down here," said Esther Oyler. "I don't like it, this is wrong."
Andrien Taylor, 66, said, "This is very wrong. I live two blocks east of Beverly Hills. We were not notified that this would happen, and it is too late for anybody to complain."
"Personally, I am sympathetic to their concerns," said Thomas Safran, a private consultant and volunteer for the Menorah Housing Foundation, the agency that will manage the project. "We did not give serious thought to the consequences (of not notifying people of the changes earlier). We decided to wait until the day of the drawing and I could see the unfortunate result and anger because we did not tell them."