BREA : City OKs Program to Help Neighborhood

Two deteriorating blocks of South Walnut Avenue will soon receive a face lift.

The City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, last week unanimously approved a $2-million rehabilitation program for the 500 and 600 blocks of South Walnut Avenue.

The program calls for the temporary relocation of about 20 to 30 families living in apartment buildings on the east side of the street. The city plans to remodel the buildings, then reduce the rent and offer units to fewer people to ease overcrowding.

Residents complained nine months ago and asked city officials to help with the problems of parking, code violations and poor living conditions caused by overcrowding.

"Now it will be better," said Cindy Howells, who together with Jose Segura heads the Walnut Avenue Task Force, a committee of homeowners, tenants and officials from nearby St. Angela's Church.

The agency's action, Segura said, "is a good thing. For the first time, the city is doing something beautiful for the people."

"At least six apartments had more than 15 people living in each one," he said. "The rehabilitation is a benefit for the children and the families. They'll have a better life and they are happy with what's going to happen."

Redevelopment Services Director Susan M. Georgino said the tenants are made up of "low- and very-low-income families. Some are paying $800 a month rent and they only make $15,000 to $20,000 a year, so they add more families to the units."

About 30 units in four apartment complexes will be bought by the city and then sold below market price in exchange for an agreement that low-income housing be provided.

"Rent would cost $300 to $400 a month," Georgino said.

The plan is to temporarily relocate some of the tenants to other apartments or hotels in the city by December while the run-down apartments get fixed up and painted. Some units will be combined so fewer people will live in more spacious rooms.

While residents agree the east side of South Walnut is an eyesore, they say the west side "is a quaint, charming row of California bungalow-style single family residential homes."

Those homes, Georgino said, are occupied by the owners and are, for the most part, "well-maintained."

She added that some of the apartments on the east side, however, had been in violation of state and local codes until recently.

"If we don't do this, we will lose this neighborhood," Councilwoman Bev Perry said about the project.

"I think it's important that we take a stand now. . . . Renters and homeowners are important to the city of Brea," she said.

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