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Tales of Affordable Housing in Alhambra: A Long Wait To Find Home

Betty Chan and Armida Dennis at affordable senior apartment complex TELACU Las Palmas. Photo by Leah Chang.

Location

Alhambra , CA

Armida Dennis waited for 13 years to move into TELACU Las Palmas, an affordable housing development on Chapel Avenue in downtown Alhambra.

Dennis raised her two sons in Alhambra. She was living with one of them when he died in 2004. Unable to afford to live in a market-rate home on her own, Dennis decided to apply for one of TELACU Las Palmas’ one-bedroom apartments. She didn’t expect to wait for 13 years, and bounce around living in many locales including Hermosa Beach, Orange County, Victorville and then finally El Sereno.

Continually moving took its toll on Dennis, who said that she often paid more rent money than at TELACU Las Palmas to live with friends and relatives, and had to constantly adjust to someone else’s rules and expectations. The constant moves affected her mental and physical health. “It was quite a struggle all these 13 years,” she said. At TELACU Las Palmas, Dennis pays $249 in rent, a little less than 30 percent of the $950 a month that she receives from Social Security.

Dennis has lived at TELACU for four months and is enjoying finally having her own home. She feels content and is even eating better now that she has complete freedom over her own life.

Dennis’ unit is small — with one bedroom and bathroom, as well as a living room and kitchen area not separated by a wall. Still, the unit is clean and well maintained.

TELACU Las Palmas was built in 1999 by the East Los Angeles Community Union, or TELACU for short, an affordable housing non-profit developer and residential manager. It was funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development Prac 202 program, which funds multi-family affordable housing for seniors with supportive services, and Alhambra’s former community redevelopment agency. TELACU has built and currently operates 33 affordable housing developments in southern California.

There are at least a few hundred units of affordable housing for moderate-income, low-income and very low-income senior citizens in Alhambra. TELACU Las Palmas has 67 units, while other large affordable senior housing developments like Plaza on Main offers 110 units, Burke Manor on North 3rd Street offers 75 units and Wysong Village Apartments on North Chapel Avenue offers 94 units.

Seniors make up around 20 percent of Alhambra’s population, according to the 2017 American Community Survey. Given the number of applicants on TELACU Las Palmas’ waiting list —- around 1,000 people when the list last closed in March 2018 — there is a lot of need for affordable senior housing in the area, said Joshua Delgado, regional property supervisor for TELACU Residential Management.

Funding cuts have befallen the 202 program in recent years. This year, Congress authorized $100 million in new construction funding to be spread around the country. TELACU Las Palmas currently gets enough funding for operating costs, including the 67-unit TELACU Las Palmas.

Apartments rarely open up, as most residents “age in place,” rather than go to nursing homes if their health declines. Only two to three apartments become available each year, said Jasmine Borrego, president of TELACU Residential Management.

California cities have also been less able to fund or provide land for affordable housing projects, since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in 2012. In 2019, the city of Alhambra started speaking with various developers to build affordable housing on a 0.42-acre parcel in downtown Alhambra, the minimum size that would work for a development like this, said the city’s Director of Community Development Marc Castagnola at a May 28 City Council meeting.

Those who live at TELACU pay at most 30 percent of their adjusted income on rent. TELACU personnel deduct expenses like medical costs, before calculating the 30 percent. The rest is subsidized by HUD. Those who apply must be 62 or older, and can only make up to 50 percent of the area median income, which in 2019 is $73,100.

The TELACU Las Palmas facility is regularly painted and cleaned, with an on-site maintenance manager available during the week for resident. There’s also a resident service coordinator on site that helps residents with their insurance, Social Security or finding home health aides.

Betty Chan and her husband applied to live in TELACU Las Palmas five years after it first opened in 1999 and were chosen by lottery out of 2,000 applicants. They have been there ever since, and relish being able to live on their own.

The Chans’ unit has a more lived-in feel than Dennis’ with pictures of themselves, their children and grandchildren, as well as a keyboard that Chan plays and sings along to. She often plans gatherings for the other residents as a volunteer, one of them being a Mother’s Day celebration. Photos of these gatherings adorn the walls of the building’s common area.

Chan says there’s a large need for affordable housing, something that’s clear when she sees people constantly calling and visiting TELACU Las Palmas, attempting to apply for a unit.

“This world is populated by different people of different economic situations,” she said. “If you stop the affordable housing, the [number of] people who really need it will grow and grow and grow.”

Under the Prac 202 program, TELACU Las Palmas operates under a 40-year covenant with HUD and a 55-year covenant with the city of Alhambra. Borrego says that as a non-profit, TELACU will keep Las Palmas as housing for low-income seniors indefinitely.

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1 thought on “Tales of Affordable Housing in Alhambra: A Long Wait To Find Home”

  1. The Alhambra City Council is supposed to consider a draft affordable housing ordinance later this year. Please show up to city hall when they do and let them know that a meaningful ordinance is desperately needed.

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