VENICE — Kendra Moore is quick to name the reasons which she believes make her home for the past 24 years nearly impossible to leave, speaking proudly of the area’s racial and economic diversity and smiling when reflecting on raising four children there.
But there’s a sense of underlying frustration and exhaustion when Moore talks of a decades long struggle by the tenants of the Holiday Venice apartments to purchase the Section 8 housing development in the historically working-class Latino and black Oakwood neighborhood, hoping to retain affordability forever by doing so.
The residents argue that purchasing the development will be necessary to ensure the apartments remain accessible to the area’s low-income and poor families because of the current property owner’s plans to begin pre-paying his mortgages to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which could lead to the affordability restrictions being lifted.
A group of tenants, including Moore, who heads the Holiday Venice Tenant Action Committee, plan to meet with HUD officials in Washington D.C. next month, urging them to deny the request to prepay the mortgages.
“Once he prepays the mortgages to HUD, he can do whatever he wants,” Moore said Monday during an interview at the Church in Ocean Park.
The 246-unit complex, comprised of 15 buildings around the intersection of Fifth and Indiana avenues, was built and financed by HUD in clusters from 1971 to 1975 with a mortgage keeping the units affordable for 40 years, shifting the development from project to voucher-based upon expiration and allowing the units to be rented at market rate upon vacancy.
The recent request by property owner Gregory Perlman of GH Capital, which purchased Holiday Venice 11 years ago, to pay the loans off before the expiration of the mortgage has concerned tenants of the building who claim his bid would eradicate what they call the last project-based Section 8 housing development in the California coastal zone, encompassing roughly a one-mile area from the beach.
The only way to keep it affordable is to sell the building to the tenants and partner Mercy Housing, a nonprofit developer of affordable rentals, Moore said.
The property owner has made several requests in the past to pre-pay the mortgages, including in 2001 when tenants responded by staging a rally, which they held again last week at Oakwood Park. The tenants have for the past decade worked with People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), a community organizing group based in Santa Monica.
Perlman, who owns 11,000 Section 8 units across the country, refutes claims that he is out to make money on the project, adding that he intends to seek a new 20-year contract with HUD to continue subsidizing the units after paying off the mortgage.
“I am not a market rate owner,” he said. “I don’t come in and kick people out.”
He argues that the tenants’ efforts are misguided and could in fact end up hurting them if the building is moved into a voucher system starting in 2011, further leading to the gentrification of Venice.
“They’re trying to block (the request) and they might think they’re winning but they’re losing,” he said.
Perlman said that he has kept the building in pristine shape since purchasing it in 1998, spending roughly $1 million in upgrades and instituting a variety of programs for tenants.
“We’ve gone to their meetings and tried to inform them of how it’s good in the long run,” he said. “They’re getting bad information.”
Tenants said they don’t believe that Perlman will move forward with his promise of instituting a new 20-year affordability contract, saying that he has refused to put it in writing, a claim that the property owner has refuted.
“If he indeed wants to extend the contract, why not just extend the contract,” said Chris Gabriele, the executive director of POWER. “Why lift the restriction first to put more restrictions later?”
Several elected officials have sided with the tenants, including L.A. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Venice, Congresswoman Jane Harman and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Rosendahl said that he plans to wait and see what steps HUD, which is now under the direction of Shaun Donovan, will take regarding the issue.
“Since the transition is going on it’s too early to tell where they are going to take this with the Obama administration,” Rosendahl said. “We hope that as a candidate of change he will be in support of us.”
He added that an optimal solution would be to have the residents purchase the building.
Many of the tenants have called Holiday Venice home for decades, including Ollie Jones, a 32-year-resident who raised six children in her apartment. She moved in shortly after getting married.
Approximately 82 percent of the tenants in the complex are involved with the Holiday Venice Tenant Action Committee.
“We’ve been able to gain our rights as tenants and fight for our rights,” Jones said.
Moore, who works the front desk at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica, remembers watching her father’s home being torn down to build the apartments. She calls the building the anchor of affordability in a community that has experienced gentrification and condo developments.
“If you want to come in and change the community, fine, but don’t change our history and push us out and do the change,” she said. “Make your changes around us so that we can come and be part of that change as well.”