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CES In The News

Los Angeles Daily News
Tuesday March 12, 2008
Low Income Tenants Being Squeezed Out
By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer

 In a blow to some of the Valley's poorest people, nearly 50 mostly senior and disabled tenants are being forced out of their apartments by landlords seeking to flee city rent control and subsidized housing.

Renters in Reseda, Northridge and North Hollywood who get federal Section 8 subsidies have been told to pay full market rates or get out, tenants, city officials and housing advocates said.

Though there are 45 documented cases, 115 tenants in four complexes could get 90-day notices that demand as much as $900 more a month in rent, or face eviction.

With few Section 8 rentals available in the Valley, tenants might have to uproot to the east, south and harbor areas of Los Angeles.

"We're going to be living on the street," said Laura Cloud, 47, a stroke victim with an unemployed husband and two daughters at Kingswood Village apartments in Reseda, who was given until April 25 to pay up or leave. "I'm lost for words. I'm very upset. I can't explain the feelings I feel. But I don't want to be in a shelter."

Section 8 evictions are on the rise across L.A., where rents soared an annual 5.5percent in the third quarter of last year and only 3percent of apartments are vacant. As a result, some landlords have sought to bypass rent control by opting out of the program.

Tenant advocates and city housing officials say some landlords are breaking the law by forcing out existing Section 8 tenants.

Landlord and tenant groups hotly debate the legality of evicting Section 8 tenants under Los Angeles' rent-control ordinance. Both sides hope the issue will be resolved in numerous court cases and appeals, one of which is now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Apartment industry officials say the city's Housing Authority, which administers federal Section 8 subsidies, has been unresponsive to the needs of the city's mostly mom-and-pop apartment owners.

And caught in the middle are renters like Ruth Hordyk, 80, a Section 8 tenant who suffers from arthritis and Parkinson's disease.

One of the 48 tenants at Kingswood Village who receive Section 8 subsidies, for five years she has paid $221 a month for a $750 one-bedroom unit from the $800 a month she gets from Social Security.

In January, she received a 90-day notice to either pay $1,000 a month or move.

"I don't have that much income," she said. "I don't have very much of a backup plan. I need to see several doctors. I'm so tired."

Ron Gussow, 64, who uses a wheelchair, was one of the lucky ones. He got a notice but managed to find another Section 8 unit in Reseda.

"It's a very rough life," said Gussow, crying at the memory of the year he lived on the street. "It's something I don't want to do. Ever again."

Officials at Century Quality Management who manage Kingswood Village did not return calls for comment.

The Fair Housing Council of the San Fernando Valley, which is investigating Kingswood Village and other Section 8 program evictions, said the landlord cut its Section 8 rentals after failing to apply for - and get - a cumulative three-year rent increase under the city's rent-control ordinance.

"We've never seen so many (Section 8) evictions at one time," said Sharon Kinlaw, assistant director for the Fair Housing Council and lead investigator in Section 8 cases.

"We're concerned primarily for the persons with disabilities. ... All their support systems are there - doctors, neighbors that help them, food and social service agencies."

The Housing Authority of Los Angeles receives about $380million a year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Section 8 vouchers.

In all, the city supplies 44,000 apartment vouchers for families. Of the 16,000 landlords who have contracted to accept Section 8 tenants, only 8,000 apartments are available in the Valley.

A recent Section 8 apartment in Canoga Park drew 214 applicants for just one vacancy.

Housing Authority officials maintain that, despite the 90-day notices, the agency is committed to helping families. If they move, they'll still get rent vouchers. If they stay, landlords will be paid while their disputes are settled by legal-aid attorneys.

"We are sending out notices to the owners that they cannot terminate a contract by providing a 90-day notice - it is breaking contract law," said Lourdes Castro-Ramirez, director of the authority's Section 8 program.

Tenant advocates, however, say landlords are picking on Section 8 renters to free up rent-control units to market rates. But they say if tenants haven't broken any rent-control laws, they can't be booted from the Section 8 contract.

"We see this throughout the city: Landlords who are attempting to get out of their Section 8 contracts are giving out blanket 90-day notices. This is illegal," said Larry Gross of the
Coalition for Economic Survival
.

"There are 44,000 Section 8 voucher holders in Los Angeles - all of them are at risk."


But while apartment-industry officials couldn't comment on the Kingswood case, they said the Housing Authority has exacerbated the city's affordable-housing crisis by not being receptive to landlords.

Cloud and her husband, David Cox, received three increases on the same day for their Kingswood Village apartment. Their rent went from $400 to $1,300.

"We're barely scraping by right now," said Cox, 41, in an apartment filled with recycled cans. "We can't afford to move. We don't have a car. We take the bus. We've got two kids, two young daughters.

"I grew up in the Valley. I can't leave it."


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