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Louise Myers, 93, has lived in the Fairfax Gardens apartments for almost a half-century. She likes her unit – “I’m so at home in my apartment,” she said – as well as the stabilized rent and the location.
The complex’s two buildings are located at 800 and 830 S. Fairfax Ave., just north of the recently reopened Tom Bergin’s Irish pub, and her ability to travel in the area is extended by the DASH bus service.
“On good days, I can walk to the Farmers Market and back, or ride [the bus] back,” she said.
In December, however, Myers’ future and that of the other residents of the 40 units at Fairfax Gardens became less clear. Chris Clifford, a Las Vegas-based vice president of the Canadian real estate company Colliers International, filed plans with the city of Los Angeles to build an eight-story, 209-unit complex on the site.
Fairfax Gardens resident Daniel Schoorl said the news wasn’t a complete shock, as residents had noticed empty units were not being filled, and the apartments – along with Bergin’s – had been sold after the Irish pub was declared a historic-cultural monument, but its parking lot was excluded from the landmark designation so housing might be built on it.
In response to the progress of the new development, Schoorl, Myers and other residents joined together and formed the Fairfax Gardens Tenants Association.
“Once we learned of the development plans, that really kicked us into high gear as far as organizing,” Schoorl said.
Like Myers, Schoorl enjoys living on Fairfax Avenue, and through the group, the residents have learned how much many of them depend on the complex’s stabilized rent to be able to afford to live in such a desirable neighborhood.
“We want to stay as long as possible because we recognize how much we enjoy the location. It’s central,” Schoorl said.
Myers said many of the Fairfax Gardens residents, herself included, likely won’t be able to afford to live in the new building.
“I wish these developers would stop and think, but everybody’s out to make money, I guess. Developers, they don’t always think of the little person,” she said.
Clifford did not return a request for an interview, but according to the Department of City Planning, 28 apartments will be set aside for extremely low-income households. In a letter to tenants, Clifford assured the current residents that they would be taken care of, especially seniors who have lived in the building for a long time.
“We want to make sure that, if we move forward with redevelopment plans, that current tenants have the ability to live in places of their choosing, with amenities and spaces that the current building cannot provide in its current state … Our goal will be to make sure that no one is worse off than they currently are, and, to the best of our ability, in a better place,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed in another letter sent to tenants by Austin Cyr, founder and president of Ground Up Communications. Cyr did not return a request for comment, but according to Ground Up’s website, the company engages “local communities before city approval is sought,” calling such engagement a “responsible and often a necessary part of the process. We work with residents to ensure all voices are heard through written correspondence, email submissions and verbal testimony.” The firm also works with political campaigns and on “issue awareness and education,” the website said.
Schoorl said the two letters mirrored each other in language used, which made clear to the residents that Ground Up, which has set up an office in the former manager’s unit, is working in support of Clifford’s efforts.
“I still get the sense that it’s early, but we’re kind of left in the dark. We haven’t received anything official,” Schoorl said.
Schoorl said the tenants are also working with neighborhood groups, including the Miracle Mile Residential Association and the Mid City West Community Council, to ensure the residents can get the best deal possible for themselves.
Jim O’Sullivan, president of the MMRA, said it is “very smart” for the residents to get organized and start working together this early in the process.
He added that normally, the MMRA would work with the developer and neighbors to make the project as neighborhood-friendly as possible. In this case, however, Clifford plans to use the city’s Transit Oriented Communities Incentive Program, which rewards projects that build affordable housing near public transit.
In his letter, Clifford said the developer filed a “TOC Tier Verification” with the city as “a simple preliminary measure that solely provides us with information that may inform our future decisions.”
“We wanted to have as much information as possible before approaching tenants with suggestions [about] the property,” Clifford added.
O’Sullivan said the MMRA believes TOC is “illegal” and “an end-run around Measure JJJ,” which aimed to create affordable housing using well-paid, local labor. TOC projects aren’t subject to the labor rules put in place by Measure JJJ, and if a project is approved under TOC, it is allowed to build higher and denser than otherwise allowed in exchange for the affordable units.
“We support pretty much everything that came into the Miracle Mile,” O’Sullivan said. “Sometimes we ask them to come back for this, come back for that, things that are neighborly, so we’ll get some concessions for the neighborhood, then we support it. But we’re categorically against TOC.”
Mark Pampanin, spokesman for Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, said in an email that Ryu and his staffers have met with the Fairfax Gardens tenants multiple times, and “this dialogue with the tenants is ongoing.” Pampanin added that Ryu is “encouraged” that the tenants joined together, “which is the vital first step,” and while the developer has “verbally committed to keeping people in their units until at least January 2021, but we would like to see that in writing.” The commitment is “a positive step, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate the councilmember’s support for the project,” Pampanin said.
“While the proposed project has more units overall and has specifically included low income units, [Ryu] is concerned that none of those units are going to house the current tenants, including a 93-year-old woman who has been living in the building since the [1960s]. This is something he would like to see addressed,” Pampanin said.
Pampanin added that this case “really encapsulates the problems Councilmember Ryu sees with the current TOC program.”
“We have seen some examples where more RSO units are destroyed than replaced with affordable [units],” Pampanin said. “This net loss is unacceptable. Councilmember Ryu is fighting for greater protections of existing affordable housing stock, new incentives including a moderate-income housing motion and reforms to TOC that ensure a higher commitment of affordable housing and stops displacement.”
While the project’s future is still uncertain, Schoorl said the current tenants of Fairfax Gardens have not taken relocation packages, and they’re working to stay as long as possible and secure the best possible outcome for all tenants.
“We’re trying to also make the argument that these TOC projects are important, but it’s also important to have community input in them and not let the developer in Las Vegas or somewhere else decide,” Schoorl said.