By Melissa Pamer Staff Writer, Daily Breeze
A low-income, senior housing unit named Mirandela Senior Apartments opened its doors this month in Rancho Palos Verdes. (STEVE McCRANK)
Nearly two years after the concept of an affordable housing development in Rancho Palos Verdes generated serious neighborhood opposition, the complex has opened as the first major low-income housing project on the tony Palos Verdes Peninsula.
This December, several months ahead of schedule, tenants began moving into the newly completed, 34-unit Mirandela senior housing project. All but one apartment is occupied, and a moving truck was on site last week.
Styled with red-tiled roofs and Spanish colonial accents, the $13 million building seeks to fit in with the Palos Verdes Peninsula look. Some visitors have expressed surprise that the project is an affordable development, Mirandela officials said.
The project’s managers say they’ve received a warm welcome – a nearby church even brought blankets for each apartment.
“We’ve become a family already,” said resident manager Luis Alvarez, who appears popular with new tenants. “They’re happy. Once they got the apartment, I’ve become their best friend.”
Residents of the complex must be 62 or older and must earn less than specified income amounts that are tied to each unit. Though some tenants come from Northern California or out of state, many are from the South Bay, Alvarez said. Most are on fixed incomes and receive Social Security or disability benefits.
Monthly rents start at $324 and rise to $1,051, depending on the type of unit and the verified income of tenants, who have to earn at most between 30 and 60 percent of the median income for Los Angeles County. Mirandela officials said there’s a waiting list for the units with the lowest-income restrictions. There was interest almost as soon as the project was authorized by Rancho Palos Verdes, said city Deputy Planning Director Greg Pfost. Local residents called him to find out about moving their parents into the complex.
The developer, Agoura Hills-based affordable home developer AMCAL Multi-Housing, never even had to promote the project. “We don’t need to advertise. We always have large demand,” said AMCAL President Arjun Nagarkatti.
Maximum allowable income ranges from $17,400 to $34,800 for a single person. New U.S. Census data for the four cities on The Hill show per capita income well above that – in a range from about $55,000 to $120,000.
For Helga Trinh, who lived for two decades in Palos Verdes Estates, Mirandela is an affordable way to stay close to her three children who graduated from Palos Verdes Peninsula High and still reside in the South Bay. “With a limited income and retirement, it’s very hard for me,” said Trinh, 65, seated last week on a leather couch squeezed next to a treadmill in her small living room. “I love this area. I thank God that this place opened. At least I don’t have to leave.”
Trinh heard about the complex early this year from a city council member on The Hill – though she doesn’t remember who it was. She said she applied for a spot in February or March and felt lucky to have secured a unit.
Longtime Redondo Beach resident Jan Murphy left a home with an ocean view to take a spot at Mirandela. She was drawn by the first-floor apartment and the amenities – two gas grills on a terrace with a sweeping view of the Los Angeles Basin.
“I haven’t been here that long, but I’ve here long enough that I think I’m going to be very happy,” said Murphy, 69, at the kitchen table in her tidy apartment.
Rancho Palos Verdes officials are pleased with the complex as well. But when they brought the development through public hearings in early 2009, area residents were definitely not enthusiastic.
At the time, they said the project would be a “nightmare” for neighborhoods near the site – at Crestridge Road and Crenshaw Boulevard. They worried about the effect on their home values. “It was kind of a heated battle when it went through the planning process, but it ended up turning into a really good project,” Pfost said.
“Only a couple of complaints came in during the one-year construction period,” he added.
The project was necessary in part because the city risked losing $1 million in redevelopment money that had been gathered from property taxes over 25 years, Pfost said. Under state law, the city had to spend the funds on affordable housing or lose the money.
At a public hearing in January 2009, one resident suggested that the city give the money to San Pedro.
City planners were also motivated because building 30 low-income units would satisfy expectations of the city under a Southern California regional housing needs assessment.
In 2000, Rancho Palos Verdes spent about $700,000 to purchase the nearly 20-acre vacant lot, which has about 3 developable acres. (The remaining 17 acres are now open space.)
Officials worked with a neighboring property owner to create a low-income housing project, but it never materialized. In 2008, AMCAL was brought in, and the city eventually sold the property to the developer.
Rancho Palos Verdes also subsidized the project, contributing a total of about $6.3 million, including the $2.9 million value at which the land had been reassessed.
AMCAL got bank financing and won about $7.3 million in low-income housing tax credits from the state.
Now that tenants have moved into the units – one and two bedrooms that range from 680 to 880 square feet – programming at the center is gearing up.
Furniture was just installed in common spaces.
There’s a clubhouse with a TV room and tables for playing cards – amenities that Nagarkatti said get lots of use at most senior developments.
In coming weeks, Alvarez will conduct a poll of residents to see what kind of services they want offered. Possibilities include computer or personal finance classes, English as a second language and exercise courses.
Nagarkatti said the project would defy expectations that some homeowners in affluent areas have of low-income housing – ideas that were forged by 1960s-era developments that were not well-maintained. “When they see the reality, they realize it can be as good as market-rate housing,” Nagarkatti said. “The tenants look after the complex because there is very, very low turnover. They see it as their own.”