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LINCOLN HEIGHTS : Residents Become Owners of Complex

Tenants of the Mission Plaza Apartments can finally call their place home since they became owners of the sprawling complex Dec. 21.

The residents’ association became the first in Southern California to buy its building under a program of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provided a $7.5-million loan.

Their first move as owners and managers of the 132-unit apartment complex will be to paint over a mural inside the recreation room that depicts a pastoral scene of Mexicans at siesta. It had been painted by the former managers, who apparently thought they were doing something nice for the tenants, the majority of whom are Latino, said Raul Recio, treasurer of the tenants association.

“That’s what they think of us,” he said. “That’s the first thing to go.”

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The purchase of the property, owned by a limited partnership, was expected by September, but red tape kept the residents waiting a few more months.

The $8.4-million transaction to buy and renovate the complex will enable most of the residents to continue paying no more than 30% of their income for rent under the Section 8 housing subsidy. The city Housing Department funded the remaining $900,000 with a low-interest loan.

The Mission Plaza tenants overcame many obstacles to purchase their property, said David Etizadi, an attorney for the nonprofit California Mutual Housing Assn., which helped the tenants group obtain the federal loans.

HUD was reluctant to approve the sale because most of the residents association officers only speak Spanish, said Etizadi, who helped with interpretation between the housing department and the tenants.

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“The feds were saying it can’t be done,” he said. “They said this was a problem for someone who doesn’t speak English, but numbers in Spanish are numbers (in English). It’s the same formula.”

Josefina Aguilar, also with California Mutual Housing Assn., added: “The language problem was HUD’s problem, not the tenants’ problem. (The tenants) know what they want. You see them in their meetings and you can see that they’re in control.”

The tenants organized a rent strike after the buildings sprung gas leaks, and they eventually became active in management issues, including better maintenance, analyzing rent increases and screening and interviewing applicants for residency.

In the last few months, residents have planted sod and rosebushes along the driveways and hope to add newer and safer playground equipment, more lights to improve security and additional plants.

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Now that they own it, the tenants believe residents’ attitudes about their 26-year-old apartment complex will improve.

“We hope that in six or seven months, there will be no more damage to the buildings” with graffiti, said Guadalupe Arias, president of the Mission Plaza Tenants Assn. “We hope that will change.”

HUD has identified 145 buildings with 10,000 units in Los Angeles that qualify for the tenant purchase program, said Anna Ortega-Garcia, manager of the city Housing Department’s prepayment program.

Owners who received 40-year government loans on their property have the option of selling after 20 years, but under the 1987 Emergency Low Income Housing Preservation Act and a similar bill passed in 1990, owners must first offer to sell their property to the tenants to keep the number of affordable housing units available.

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If tenants do not purchase the property, the owners can sell to an outside interest who may not want to keep the units affordable.


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