Problems Plague City-Backed Hotel : Housing: Drugs, crime are rampant at Downtown hotel renovated under ambitious program, police say. But officials say progress is being made.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After living on the grimy streets of Downtown Los Angeles, Herman Lewis thought that moving into the Hayward Manor hotel at 6th and Spring streets would bring more safety and comfort.

Within days, he realized he was wrong. "You might as well be on the street," said Lewis, who lived at the Hayward from August, 1994, through May, 1995. "Drugs are everywhere. You don't even have to go outside of the place. You can get anything you want inside."

Drug dealing and drug use are only some of the problems facing the Hayward Manor, according to police and the current manager, a court-appointed receivership representative. There's also prostitution, murder, sexual assault, robbery and other crimes.

These kinds of problems are not unusual for some of the low-cost hotels on the fringe of Skid Row. But unlike the others, the Hayward is part of a $110-million citywide project hailed as the most ambitious affordable housing effort in Los Angeles history by outgoing Mayor Tom Bradley in 1993. At a cost of $25 million, the Hayward was the most expensive of the 15 affordable housing projects unveiled that day.

Now, two years later, the 525-unit single resident occupancy hotel is in danger of defaulting on a $13.4-million city-authorized revenue bond, according to the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's. And taxpayers may never be repaid for a $10-million city loan made in 1992 for acquisition and rehabilitation of the beleaguered hotel, city officials acknowledge.

Despite these setbacks, city officials say the Hayward Manor is a public benefit.

"It is offering affordable housing for people on the bottom rung of the economic ladder," said Gary Squier, housing department general manager.

But police call it a public safety nightmare. In 1993, police reported three separate homicides inside the hotel, one of the incidents occurring only days after Mayor Bradley's public unveiling of the project. The receiver has compiled a list of more than 2,000 criminal or security-related incidents that have occurred in the last 18 months. In the last six months of this year, according to a Los Angeles police crime summary, 42 different kinds of crimes were reported inside the building.

"The city has a lot better things to do with their money than invest it in a fleabag tenement that is a hotbed of crime and drugs," said Police Lt. Dave Rock of the Central Division, which covers Downtown. "It has got to be in the top four or five worst hotels [in the Downtown area]. I can't think of anything worse than the Hayward [and] only a few that are just as bad."

Even the project's managing general partner, Catholic Charities Community Development Corp., questions whether the building offers the tenants "a decent place to live."

The Hayward's sad state is a far cry from its original billing, circa 1905, as a fireproof, elegant hotel where "special attention is given to ladies traveling alone."

Today's Hayward, a labyrinth of hallways, staircases and elevators, is infested with cockroaches and rodents; the smell of dead rats lingers in the air. The carpeting in today's Hayward is pock-marked with cigarette burns from tenants who prefer the carpet to ashtrays. Today's Hayward is a place where a decomposed body was recently found only because somebody noticed a trail of maggots under the doorway.

The current manager of the building, Harry Crockett, who represents a receiver appointed by the court in August, 1995, has been taking steps to cut the crime problem within the hotel--including evicting unruly tenants and limiting non-residents' entry. But it is a huge and difficult task, Crockett says.

In September, an LAPD narcotics surveillance report listed the Hayward as one location where drug dealing frequently occurs. It is the only city-funded affordable housing project that has armed security guards on its premises, according to housing department officials.

Squier, the housing department general manager, said there was an "inadequate screening of tenants" in addition to ineffective or nonexistent security measures.

Alpha Management, which had run the hotel before the appointment of the receiver, denies the charges.

Regardless, city officials say they are determined to get the situation under control.

"I am very happy with the work the receiver has done," said Squier. "Has it turned around? No. They have a lot of work ahead of them."

Hayward tenants are expected to adhere to a set of "house rules," such as keeping noise within limits and keeping the rooms clean. Fighting, prostitution, drug dealing and abusive language are banned in or around the building. Yet the reality, according to tenants, is quite different.

Herman Lewis recalls having to step over people sleeping in the dimly lit hallways as he made his way to his room. Nearly every day, he says, he would hear bottles and trash being thrown out the windows. One evening, while visiting a neighbor, he was narrowly missed by a bottle thrown from another room as it crashed through his neighbor's window.

"We called the manager in and told him what happened," said Lewis, who volunteers as the literacy program coordinator at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in South-Central Los Angeles. "He said to us, 'Well, maybe you deserved it.' I said to him, 'I didn't deserve it. I don't even know these people.' "

Drug dealing continues to be a major problem in the building, according to Crockett and police. During a police narcotics surveillance operation in September, three suspects were arrested on suspicion of selling drugs in front of the Hayward. One suspect was identified as Jimmy Lee Smith, one of the men convicted of the 1963 "Onion Field" murder of a Los Angeles police officer. Smith is a resident of the Hayward, according to Crockett.

Kevin Flynn, director of the on-site Catholic Charities social service center at the hotel, says he encourages visitors and staff not to go up to the rooms alone because they cannot guarantee anyone's safety.

"The place has been described in the past as a minimum security prison," Flynn said. "I feel relatively safe within the confines of the mezzanine and lobby" but not elsewhere in the rambling structure, he said.

For current tenants such as Ronald McCrary, living at the Hayward is a better situation than living on the streets, but he is still cautious.

"I am 52 and weigh 300 pounds and I don't do drugs," said McCrary, who is unemployed but hopes to get a job as a truck driver. "I mind my own business and [drug dealers] leave me alone."

McCrary, who moved into the building in January, said the living conditions at the hotel have improved since the receiver was appointed.

"Before the [receiver] got here, it was really bad," McCrary said. "The receiver is really doing a good job. They are trying to clean the place up."

But managing the hotel can present some peculiar problems: In February, 1993, the former manager's penthouse apartment was allegedly firebombed and although an insurance claim for physical damage was paid, the room has not been repaired, according to Crockett.

Other renovations required by the hotel's contract with the city's housing department have also not been completed, despite the millions of dollars that have been invested in the project, officials said.

"If the city was going to spend that much money on what they call an investment, then they need to invest in security to ensure this kind of thing doesn't happen," said Police Lt. Rock.

Under the management plan the city drafted for the developers in 1992, the city only requires that the hotel have a safe environment for the tenants.

"We are not in the business of saying how to do it," Squier said. "We are in the business of specifying that the building should be safe."

Alpha Management Vice President Larry Wahl said the company made credit checks on all new tenants. Although there was free entry into the hotel, all non-residents were asked to leave an identification card at the front desk. "Unless they were a resident, they were not allowed to pass the front desk area," Wahl said.

According to those familiar with affordable housing projects, security concerns are critical to running a successful facility and are particularly important at single residence occupancy hotels.

"It is very dangerous in the neighborhood," said Alice Callaghan, president of the Skid Row Housing Trust, which owns 14 single residence occupancy hotels in the Skid Row area. "Security is a big issue. We have strict rules. We were forced, for the security of the hotel, to implement . . . rules and hours [for the tenants]."

Andy Raubeson, executive director of the SRO Housing Corp., who oversees 17 hotels in the Skid Row area, dedicates 11 pages of a management manual to security and safety issues.

"Security starts with a very careful selection of the people in the building," Raubeson said. "Once you get a lot of bad people in the hotel, it is extremely difficult to get the problem corrected. You can't just kick somebody out, no matter how egregious the act committed."

Crockett is now trying to cope with the tremendous task of getting the financial books in order in addition to improving the safety conditions for tenants.

"We decided real early on that with the tenancy we have, it was either 'eat the bear or the bear eats you,' " Crockett said. "We are in the process of trying to get on top of it. To change the tenancy will take a period of time."

To impose order on the property, the receiver plans to petition the court to issue an order allowing the management to control access to the front door, reduce non-tenant entry by requiring guest identification at the front entrance and place a metal detector at the 6th Street entrance. Crockett is also considering hiring off-duty police officers to patrol the hotel after dark.

"The fact that drugs have gotten in and taken hold is a problem," Crockett said. "There are drugs on the property. We see evidence of it. We want somebody here who has the authority to arrest," Crockett said.

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