There’s a new conflict brewing in Oakwood, and this time it isn’t between warring street gangs.
It involves a running dispute about affordable housing and whether one of the last apartment complexes in Venice that welcomes tenants on government assistance will remain open to those who qualify for Section 8 housing.
Tenants at Breezes del Mar, a 246-unit federally assisted affordable housing complex formerly known as Holiday Venice, say that they are bracing for a potential battle over what they fear may be the beginning of an attempt to eliminate affordable housing at the property.
The complex was financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and built in the early 1970s to provide housing for low-income residents.
A tenant group called the Holiday Venice Action Committee has held rallies and press conferences to draw attention to its plight after the owner of the housing complex, Sherman Oaks-based GH Capital, made a request to HUD to prepay its mortgages at Breezes del Mar before they mature in 2011.
The committee and other community action groups believe that this would allow Gregory Perlman, principal at GH Capital, to potentially avoid guaranteeing low-income affordability to his tenants.
Kendra Moore, president of the tenant committee, says that many of the apartment dwellers have offered to purchase the complex from Perlman to no avail.
“We’re running out of time,” Moore said. “The first mortgages are due in 2011 and we can’t afford to wait.”
Perlman disputes the notion that he is seeking to jeopardize low-income housing status for his tenants. In a recent interview, Perlman said that his goal was to provide more affordable housing.
“I want to put another 20 years of Section 8 housing at that site,” the GH principal stated. “In order to do that, I have to prepay the loans that I have right now.”
Section 8 provides affordable housing based on the use of government subsidies, the amount of which is geared to the tenant’s ability to pay.
GH Capital, which has owned the apartments since 1999, applied to HUD in 2001 to prepay its mortgages and was denied.
The neighborhood has long been an area heavily populated by African American and Latino families that often could not afford to live in Venice’s more affluent neighborhoods, Pamela Anderson, a long-time resident of Venice, pointed out.
Renters who reside at Breezes del Mar have said that they are intent on doing all that they can to maintain the low-cost housing at the apartment complex.
“We want to keep the apartments affordable to low-income families forever,” said Ollie Jones, who is a member of the tenant association.
Larry Bush, a senior public affairs officer at the regional HUD office in San Francisco, told The Argonaut that even if GH Capital is allowed to prepay its mortgages, the tenants currently living at the complex would not lose their Section 8 status.
“All existing tenants would be converted to a Section 8 housing voucher,” Bush explained. “They could remain under Section 8 at the apartment complex or they could move to another location that accepts (federal assistance vouchers.)”
However, newcomers to Breezes del Mar might not qualify for the federal assistance if the owner pays the mortgages before 2011.
“They could face some issues,” Bush confirmed.
Perlman says that he has met with the tenants regarding selling the apartments in the past, but no creditable offers were ever presented.
Perlman also believes that the tenants have been given misinformation by outside interests that have their own agendas, and although it is not his intention, the residents at Breezes del Mar could eventually lose the Section 8 housing provision.
“I want to keep affordable housing in Venice, but if the tenants continue to try to stop the progress that I’m making with HUD, then those 246 units will become market rate housing in 2011,” Perlman told The Argonaut.
The GH Capital principal said that an equity firm, which co-owns the apartments, could eventually decide not to prepay the mortgages and allow the complex to be purchased by another company that would seek market rate value for the apartment units.
People Organized for Westside Renewal, a Santa Monica community organization that works in low-income areas of Venice and Mar Vista, has thrown its support behind the tenants at Breezes del Mar.
“Foreclosures are a big topic now, and something like this resonates nationwide,” noted Bill Przylucki, a POWER organizer. “There has been a campaign to save the complex for many years.”
The tenants have some political muscle on their side. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Congresswoman Jane Harman, whose district includes Venice, co-authored a letter to Steven Treston, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in December regarding GH Capital’s desire to pay the HUD mortgages before they are due, which they feel could lift the restrictions on maintaining low-income status on the complex.
Both legislators indicated that they were not inclined to support the owner’s action.
“The owners had previously sought prepayment of the mortgages in 2001 and (in 2008). Both proposals were denied and in the 2001 decision, HUD acknowledged that prepayment would violate the owner’s contractual agreement and rightfully rejected the owner’s request,” Boxer’s and Harman’s letter states. “We see nothing new right now that should change that decision.
“As a matter of fact, given the terrible recession, such a move could be extremely hurtful,” the lawmakers added.
Moore is thankful for the California legislators’ assistance.
“It makes us feel good to know that (Boxer and Harman) support affordable housing,” said the tenant leader.
The Venice Neighborhood Council also issued a resolution backing the residents of Breezes del Mar on Tuesday, March 3rd.
“Because we feel that affordable housing is a critical matter in Venice, we wanted to join Sen. Boxer and Rep. Harman by supporting their earlier position,” said Marc Saltzburg, an outreach officer on the Venice Neighborhood Council.
Perlman said that he will continue to try to pay off his mortgages before 2011, and that he hopes the Breezes del Mar tenants realize what the ramifications could be if he is unsuccessful.
“It would be a sad day in Venice if (Breezes del Mar) goes to market rate,” he said.
Moore said that she and her fellow tenants are determined to make a stand in the contentious matter of the HUD mortgages and affordable housing.
“These 15 buildings are the anchor of the Oakwood community,” she asserted. “And we don’t want to lose them.”