Pacifica seniors promised political

fight for their subsidized housing

By Chris Hunter

Editor and Publisher

Politicians rushed to give support to terrified Pacifica senior citizens last week, promising total commitment to finding some solution for those seniors living at Casa Pacifica and Ocean View Apartments who have been notified that their subsidized rents are in jeopardy.

Even Pacifica City Councilmember Barbara Carr, who has been ill in recent months, made a rare public appearance to offer her support.

"Sixteen years ago, I went through this same thing," said Carr. "The building was sold and refinanced and the owners decided they needed more money."

Carr said that a special parking variance had been granted to the Ocean View apartment complex, linked directly to its continued operation as a seniors-only facility. That ruling prevented the complex from being marketed to the general public.

"You're going to get stuck with a vacant building," Carr threatened the current owners, who were not present. "I will not allow one person to be forced out of there, allowing people to make a profit."

Later, in discussing the parking variance leverage, Carr admitted that it seemed doubtful the city could do anything if the owners maintained the facility as a senior complex, even if it shifted away from Section 8 federal subsidies.

Representatives from Congressman Tom Lantos's office, County Supervisor Rich Gordon's office and State Senator Quentin Kopp's office all vowed to work on behalf of the Pacifica seniors.

And, in a late development this week, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer has become personally involved in the Pacifica situation, writing to Art Agnos, the regional administrator of HUD, insisting on some positive action.

"The seniors living in these two communities are justifiably frightened and concerned," wrote Boxer in a letter dated Oct. 5. "Being forced to move would be an extreme hardship for the residents. In addition to those who are frail and elderly, several seniors are disabled as well. The residential vacancy rate in the surrounding area is less than one percent, which makes keeping the units in the Section 8 program that much more crucial. I urge you and your staff at HUD to work as closely as possible with the San Mateo County Housing Authority and the property owners to exercise every available option to prevent a situation where low-income seniors would be forced to relocate."

Boxer told Agnos that she would be sending a representative to an Oct. 9 meeting planned with HUD officials to discuss the Pacifica situation.

Ida Marie Roper, a 94-year-old resident of the Ocean View Apartments had a stoic, but feisty attitude about the situation on Sunday. "It's in God's hands," she said, "and the lawyers."

An attorney met with residents last Friday to tell them about their legal rights as tenants, allaying some fear that they would not be put out in the street at the end of the 30-day termination of tenancy notice. The owners will be forced to follow eviction process should the situation deteriorate.

"We are extremely concerned about this," said Cathy Barber, representing County Supervisor Richard Gordon. "We need to look at some changes in the law. This should not be happening at all. We're really working hard on this."

Evelyn Szelenyi of Congressman Tom Lantos's office, said that the congressman was concerned about the issue and would be looking into the situation.

Geraldine O'Conner, speaking for State Senator Quentin Kopp, expressed her own commitment to the situation as well as that of Kopp's. "You be assured of his efforts on your behalf," said O'Conner.

Although no real answers came out of last week's meeting, many felt comforted by the dynamic talk from powerful politicians. Pacifica City Councilmember Maxine Gonsalves spoke about her desire to see rent control in Pacifica. Mayor Dorothy Edminster reassured the seniors that she was in contact with state and federal politicians who were actively researching the issue. "I was not happy when I heard about this problem," said Edminster. "There was smoke coming out of my ears."

The daughter of one of the senior residents in Ocean View took the opportunity to voice a dynamic defense of her mother and the other seniors. With fierce anger, Carmella Perez said that the situation was "cruel, inhumane and heartless."

Representatives from the Housing Authority of San Mateo County also were on hand at the meeting to emphasize their desire to solve the problem, which basically involves new owners demanding a higher rent than the government agency HUD is willing to pay. Unless a negotiated compromise is reached, the private landlords will simply seek to get market rents from seniors willing to pay $1100 a month. If the government pays more money or the owners accept less money, the problem will be solved. As of Tuesday, no solution had been announced.

The best solution however, according to some, is for a third party, such as a non-profit housing agency, to buy the property and maintain it as a subsidized senior complex. City Manager David Carmany said this possibility is being researched.

Meanwhile, the anxiety continues to mount in the lives of the Pacifica seniors affected by the turmoil. "Many of the seniors who live at the Ocean View and Casa Pacifica Apartments are getting sicker and sicker by the day as they wait for the owners to decide their fate, all because they want more money to put in their millionaire pockets," wrote Mary J. Landers in a letter to the Tribune. "Is it any wonder they never show their faces and let others speak for them?"