Seniors spend years waiting for apartment

As Susana Cruciana strolls down Second Street, she recounts details of a past Laguna.

"There was a roller skating rink on the corner," said Cruciana, 63. Then she turns slightly and points to another site where sits a pale green, two-story Laguna Beach house that she first set foot in in 1957.

Cruciana, with her impeccably brushed short black hair with dark red highlights, and donning a bright pink scarf, stood at the base of the steps leading up to the door of 407 Mermaid St.

She points out the Acacia trees and jade plants her mother planted. The plants and trees border the concrete steps that lead to the second story portion of the house she lived in with her mother and older sister.

"We used to walk skunks right through here," she said, pointing to a specific spot. N

ow divorced, Cruciana returned to Laguna Beach in 2008 after living in Los Angeles for 20 years. She pays $1,500 a month in rent, which includes utilities and cable, to live with her cat Amelie in a two-story loft with a kitchen in the Bluebird Canyon neighborhood.

As one of Laguna's senior residents — who make up a third of the city's population — she wonders how long she can stay in the beachside town.

About 8,453 residents, or 37% of Laguna's population, are 55 or older, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

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

Cruciana has been on the waiting list at Vista Aliso for one year. Ninety-five people are before her.

Her wait time for Vista Aliso is not unusual. Margaret Butt, 82, moved into the complex 18 years ago after six years on the waiting list.

Butt moved into her current apartment, still in Vista Aliso, three years ago. She pays $222 per month for a place that has a patio, kitchen, dining area and living room.

"It's nice, but I have started eliminating [getting rid of things], because I have too much stuff," Butt said.

Parking is coveted within Vista Aliso, Butt said. "Visitors park in the elderly spaces," she said.

Butt was a caregiver and nurse and rented a cottage in Corona del Mar before moving into Vista Aliso. She is still self-sufficient.

"I walk everywhere and help a lot of people in the complex," Butt said. "I help ones who can't pick up the poop from their dogs. I try to live like [Jesus] Christ: to do unto others as you would have them do to you."

Creating a livelihood is harder for Cruciana, who sells antiques and collectibles on eBay to help pay rent and buy groceries.

"I can't get a real job because I can't stand for long periods of time," said Cruciana, who waitressed for 20 years off-and-on at the former Jolly Roger, now Tommy Bahama.

She visits thrift stores and yard sales to purchase collectibles such as jewelry, then resells them on eBay.

"I want to be independent," Cruciana said.

She said the cheapest one-room studios in the city go for $1,200 and "are not easy for people who accumulate stuff."

Most one-bedroom rentals cost $1,800 to $2,200, she said.

Harbor Cove on Broadway Street and Alice Court on Glenneyre Street are options, but they don't allow pets, Cruciana said.

Alice Court has 27 studios that range from $480 to $652 per month, said property manager Kim Rouse.

Cruciana also placed her name on the waiting list for the Orange County Housing Authority's Housing Choice Voucher Program, in which participants receive a voucher to use for rent.

Cruciana said her wait time for the housing voucher program is 19 to 25 months.

The Housing Authority is still filling requests from people on its 2005 waiting list, according to Cruciana.

Despite the housing difficulties, she likes where she lives.

"The amenities are fabulous, and to me it's [still] an absolute bargain," Cruciana said.


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