Seniors big focus of city's housing plan

As Laguna Beach officials move forward in updating the city's housing plan, there is one key group they must consider: seniors, who represent a third of the beach community's residents.

"We have people who have lived [in Laguna] for 20, 30, 40 years, who have made the town the way it is," said Chris Quilter, board member for Laguna Beach Seniors, a nonprofit that promotes wellness and independence for the local seniors. "Many have to leave town once they get old" because they can no longer afford their homes and the city has no assisted-living facilities.

The population is aging. Of the city's 22,723 residents, 8,453 are 55 or older, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Laguna Beach considers anyone age 65 or older a "senior," principal planner Carolyn Martin wrote in an email.

City officials are beginning to update Laguna Beach's housing document, which outlines priorities that affect renters and owners, per state law.

The current housing document covers 2006 to 2014 and complies with state law, said Eric Johnson, spokesman for the California Department of Housing and Community Development.  

The law requires cities to adequately plan to meet existing and future housing needs, including affordable housing.  

The next document will cover 2013 to 2021.

Housing goals include maintaining existing housing stock, addressing special-needs groups and removing constraints to housing development, where feasible.

Martin presented an overview March 6 of the city's housing status during a joint meeting with Planning Commission and Housing and Human Services Committee members.

In the coming months, Laguna Beach officials will seek public input and discuss possible changes to the housing plan at a Planning Commission meeting in late April or early May. The document is available on the city's website at

Data from the city's housing plan shows that Laguna has 13,522 housing units. Of those, 164 are reserved for low- or moderate-income households, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Laguna Beach has 85 apartments restricted to low-income seniors (those whose income is 50% to 80% of the county's median income), according to Martin.

City officials are doing what they can and have garnered recognition from the state for their housing plan, but challenges remain.

The median single-family home price in Laguna Beach was $1.5 million in 2007 while the county's average was $660,000, according to DataQuick.

Glen Campora, assistant deputy director for the California Department of Housing and Community Development, applauded Laguna Beach in a letter to City Manager John Pietig dated Jan. 2 for addressing special-needs housing.

Campora commended Laguna for approving the Glennwood House project, which involves converting an empty building that previously was a senior-assisted-living facility off South Coast Highway and Ruby Street into a house for 50 young adults youth with developmental disabilities. The Glennwood Housing Foundation Inc. is handling the conversion.


Affordable housing

Laguna Beach has six affordable housing developments, according to the housing plan. It has also approved one low-income space in a four-unit artist live/work development in Laguna Canyon, and 10 additional residential units to help the city meet state-mandated affordable-housing requirements.

The city has 25 condominiums reserved for median income (80% to 120% of the county's median income). Very-low is 30% to 50% of the county's median income, while low income is 50% to 80% of the median income.

The 2013 Orange County median income for a family of four is $87,200, Martin said.

The current housing plan says residents might be paying more for desired amenities that are not available at an affordable cost. The lack of developable land coupled with the desirability of Laguna Beach also creates some households willing to pay more for housing.

Laguna Beach has no assisted-living facilities for the elderly, Quilter said. Vista Aliso on Wesley Drive has 71 low-income private apartments for seniors.

Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson is concerned with what happens to aging adults who need assisted living or long-term care.

"A woman I know in her late 70s had a husband who became ill," Johnson said. "She drove to San Clemente twice per day every day [for care]."

Quilter said as people age they might find themselves living in a house that's too big and using the bulk of their income to pay medical bills.

"I'm concerned about moderate-income seniors running through their retirement money," Quilter said. "Many seniors have moved to Laguna Woods, a senior-living community. The sadness is losing them from the community."

Much of the outreach from the Susi Q Senior Center is fostering the discussion of end-of-life issues, Quilter said.

"We are talking about the end of our lives; no one likes talking about it," he said. "You won't find a robust conversation in town.

"We don't have robust options for these folks. We have people in Laguna Beach who have fallen on hard times and we can't help them."

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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