Deal brokered by Hahn secures nearly 200 units of affordable housing

By Gary Walker

Mariners Village, as seen from the marina’s main channel

When Mary Hobgood stopped teaching and moved to Marina del Rey three years ago, the 23 verdant acres and scenic harbor views of the 1960s-built Mariners Village housing complex appeared to her the ideal place to retire. Then the rent went up.

“Marina del Rey was the place of my dreams, but soon I wasn’t going to be able to afford to live here,” she said.

Meanwhile, the threat of displacement loomed for even the most financially secure of Hobgood’s neighbors. Since 2014, the 981-unit Mariners Village complex had been slated for a major redevelopment effort that would have destroyed most, if not all, of its nearly 1,000 mature trees in order to reorganize contemporary, high-end apartments around a greatly expanded retail center.

That is until last week, when Los Angeles County’s official plans for Mariners Village took an unexpected 180-degree turn. On Oct. 30, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a 39-year lease extension that will preserve the complex’s original architecture and convert 20% of its housing — that’s 196 apartments — as affordable housing.

Marina del Rey’s current affordable housing stock totals only 132 units, though an additional 128 affordable apartments or townhomes are currently under construction, according to county statistics.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes Marina del Rey, led the charge for a redevelopment agreement for Mariners Village in sharp contrast to the whirlwind of market-rate housing construction during the final term of retired predecessor L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe.

“I had a new vision for Marina del Rey. I wanted to do something that had not been done in the marina before I got here, and this is a first step in that direction,” Hahn said. “Skyrocketing rents are driving families and seniors on fixed incomes out of Marina del Rey.  With this agreement we are not only approving renovations for the apartments of the nearly 1,000 families in Mariners Village, we are also ensuring that hundreds of families can afford to live there well into the future.”

The $100-million renovation agreement Hahn’s office negotiated with Mariners Village leaseholders the Marina Admiralty Co. calls for no tenants to be evicted during renovations and scraps plans for an expanded retail component. The private walkway along Mariners Village’s undeveloped waterfront will also become public space, preserving plans for a public walking path encircling the harbor.

Michael Sondermann, the developer for Marina Admiralty Co., said talks with the county had stalled until Hahn took office in December 2016.

“These lease extensions were at a critical point when the changeover occurred in 2016, and Supervisor Hahn led the change,” Sondermann said. “Anytime that you can bring the community, government and the private sector together, that’s a win-win situation.”

Marina Admiralty Co. will absorb the cost of converting 196 apartments into affordable housing, and how to do that without a government subsidy had proved the biggest hurdle to overcome during lease negotiations.

“Balancing the investment, renovations and requirement for affordable housing and getting all of that to work was a very large complication,” Sondermann said.

Kendall Mayhew, an organizer with the Santa Monica-based affordable housing community organization People Organized for Westside Renewal, said having more low-income housing in Marina del Rey is an exciting development.

“I grew up near Marina del Rey and I’m someone who’s been affected by a lack of affordable housing. My mother was in and out of homelessness most of her life, so I know how important it is to have ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in housing,” Mayhew told county leaders during the Oct. 30 discussion.

Susanne Browne, an attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles who was involved in negotiating a 2006 affordable housing settlement in Marina del Rey, called on county officials to ensure that any tenants who are displaced before the new housing policies take effect are granted legal right to return to Mariners Village. Hahn asked her staff to work with Legal Aid and the developer to work on Browne’s concern.

Molly Basler, a Westside environmental activist, thanked Hahn for brokering an agreement that will preserve trees at Mariners Village that have long been a nesting area for Great Blue Herons.

“Supervisor Hahn gets the relationship between trees, people and the environment,” she said. “We need trees to breathe, and the Great Blue Heron has been nesting in most of them for years.”

For Hobgood, the agreement could not come at a more opportune time.

“Now with affordable housing I might be able to stay,” she said.

Hahn said creating new affordable housing units is part of a new commitment to Marina del Rey welcoming a diversity of socioeconomic backgrounds.

“For the longest time, people thought Marina del Rey was just a playground for the rich. In fact, it’s a county facility and it should be open to anyone who wants to enjoy the waterfront,” Hahn said. “This is going to be a model for how we negotiate lease extensions going forward.”