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Seniors Get Housing Relief Just in Time

JOSHUA TREE — Until Friday, Jim McCubbin didn’t know how he would fare living in the back of his pickup truck with a camper shell during the winter months.

Late last year, McCubbin and about 20 other low-income senior tenants at Sunset Village Apartments in Joshua Tree were told their rent would increase significantly in 2014 because a state rental subsidy would expire at the end of the year.

“I had most of my things packed up in boxes,” McCubbin, a Vietnam veteran, said. “I bought an inflatable mattress and a backpack and water bottles for the back of my truck. That was my plan B.”

McCubbin and 19 other tenants at Sunset Village received a notice on Dec. 26, 2012, informing them the state was terminating its rental subsidy to the complex because funds for the program were exhausted. The assistance program was put in place in the 1980s to allow federally subsidized developments to accommodate low- and very-low-income households.

Residents at Sunset Village were informed Friday that the California Housing Finance Authority plans to extend the subsidy for another two years. It may not be a permanent solution, but it’s just enough time for McCubbin and other low-income tenants to start applying for other low-income housing.

“It’s a great relief,” McCubbin said Monday. “The other low-income buildings available in the area have almost a two-year waiting list.”

About 30 properties throughout California relied on the rental subsidy. The program allowed tenants on fixed or very low incomes who could not afford market-rate rent to pay a percentage of their income as rent. Each property had a contract with the state for 30 years, but the contract also allowed the agency to discontinue aid if funds ran out before that.

Last year, the state housing agency informed property owners that funds for the program were no longer available and would cease on Dec. 31, 2013.

Ted Halter, who owns Sunset Village, said he immediately started contacting representatives from the state, attorneys and lawmakers to see what could be done. He knew his senior tenants weren’t the only ones living on limited incomes and searching for a place to live.

Halter got in touch with Gideon Anders, senior attorney with the National Housing Law Project.

Anders teamed up with two nonprofit organizations, the California Rural Housing Coalition and the California Housing Partnership Corporation, to find money to help the 555 households across the state that rely on the program.

Earlier this month, the state announced plans to use federal funds and other limited state sources to extend the program another two years.

Halter credits Anders and his work with state agencies for producing a short-term solution that’s long enough to buy time for tenants.

“There are three organizations that have worked for the past six months to persuade HCD to undertake this approach,” Anders said by email Monday. “All three were equally instrumental in seeking to protect the residents from displacement and finding a method to allow owners to transition their operations to more moderate-income housing.”

Rosemary Swan is breathing a sigh of relief over the news. She had just moved into Sunset Village a month before getting the notice that she’d have to find another place to live within a year.

“We got the notice the day after Christmas last year. It was quite a shock,” Swan said. “I was pretty devastated; I thought I was going to live here probably the rest of my life and just be settled because I’ve moved around a lot.”

She researched other affordable housing properties throughout Southern California, to no avail.

“I got real proactive and put applications down in Indio and Palm Springs, Big Bear, San Diego, Oceanside, Desert Hot Springs and all of those places had a year-and-a-half waiting list, except for Oceanside and San Diego, which were five years,” Swan said. “I told myself I wouldn’t start freaking out until October. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had a lot of friends and family who told me I could stay with them, but I didn’t have any real options.”

She said with a two-year time frame, she can start putting her name on waiting lists and applications now, in hopes that something will be available by the time the rent goes up at Sunset Village.