Bell Gardens plans affordable housing project

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By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

BELL GARDENS — The city has announced plans to develop a 4.3-acre lot formerly used for manufacturing and industrial purposes to build 82 affordable housing units for rent and 18 single townhomes for sale pending a second environmental cleanup.

Previously, the lot at 5600 to 5636 Shull St. hosted industrial and manufacturing facilities before all buildings were demolished to incur an environmental cleanup, with the site remaining empty for several years.

The current owner and property controller is the Successor Agency to the Community Development Commission of Bell Gardens, and the vacant parcel consists of seven different lots that would blend into one if the purchase and residential development is approved by local and state agencies.

Gustavo Romo, the city’s community development director, said the parcel would be sold as is for $2.7 million to real estate developer WPH Holdings.

The city will keep about 10%, or $227,000, with the largest share, or $2,473,000 going to the state, he said.

The California Department of Finance must receive and accept the purchase and sale agreement with the proposed amount for the Successor Agency to be able to close escrow, Romo explained in an email.

To accomplish that, the city applied for and obtained a grant from the Department of Toxic Substances Control worth $6.4 million to decontaminate the soil and make it usable for housing.

“The property has been cleaned up to the level so that other industrial and commercial users are being allowed, but not currently to the level of residential,” Romo said.

City staff estimated detoxifying the property would cost $4.4 million, but the city asked for more funds in case additional costs are identified once the cleanup starts.

Romo said that $320,000 will be set aside for city staff and project manager administration, and any unused portion of the grant will remain with the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

City Manager Michael O’Kelly said the intended deal would provide a space to build needed affordable housing and bring relief to a city with high residential density.

“This is a big project coming we’ve been working for a long time, probably about two years and a little longer,” O’Kelly said. “If this purchase agreement is approved, and further action is taken, we are looking at a large scale affordable housing project.”

After the city council unanimously agreed to authorize Romo to pursue the deal with WPH Holdings, the agreement was submitted to an oversight board for approval on July 18, based on escrow and sale instructions.

Transmittal of documents related to the real estate purchase to the state Department of Finance is slated to take place following a scheduled city council vote at the Aug. 8 meeting.

The lot’s rezoning and additional environmental cleaning is part of the citywide General Plan and Zoning Consistency program currently underway, Romo added.

Altogether, two legal junctures had to be met before the party in the intended purchase was chosen.

First, state law AB 1486 instructs all local agencies to prioritize surplus parcels for affordable housing, parks and open spaces when they become available.

And second, the Successor Agency listed the site in its Long Range Property Management Plan in 2015 after the first round of cleanups ended, and determined per the Surplus Land Act it would not be of use before offering the lot to the affordable housing developers.

The property was declared surplus land in March 2021, and a notice of availability was released one week later to a group of interested parties.

Romo said WPH Holdings responded a month later, and the Successor Agency concluded that the company’s projected design provided the “deepest level of affordability for development of the property.”

The expected sale and escrow would close between July 31 and Sept. 30, 2023.

Of the 82 apartments, 40 will have one bedroom, each with a dimension of 525 square feet; 21 would be designed with two bedrooms in spaces of 752 square feet, and 21 will have three bedrooms and 910 square feet.

Each of the 18 townhouses would be built as three-story single-family structures, 17 of them with three bedrooms and only one with one bedroom.

A preliminary layout indicates that the 82 apartments would be erected on top of 3.5 acres, but Romo warned that blueprints will render actual acreage measurements for all the structures.

The buyers would carry the burden of cleaning the site once the state agency releases the funds, and will coordinate efforts with the city, Romo said.

“The [cleanup] grant has not been formally funded. We are in the process of taking care of it,” he said.

Applicants for tenancy and buyers interested in a townhouse would have to show they meet the area median income to be considered.

According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s income limits for 2022, a household with four people with wages of $91,100 qualifies as median income dweller in Los Angeles County, and a single resident making $63,750 also falls in the same bracket.

A household of three people should earn up to $82,000 to meet similar criteria.

City Councilwoman Lisseth Flores congratulated all the stakeholders involved in the negotiations, and said the projected purchase would alleviate a lack of affordable housing in the city.

“At the end of the day, we’ve been in conversations for this [purchase] for a very long time,” Flores said. “This is a big win for the city and for all residents. A city overpopulated to be able to provide housing in a housing crisis desert, it is a big win.”

The councilwoman added there would be enough parking spaces for all the residents when construction is finished.

Mayor Alejandra Cortez said the new parcel owners still face environmental riddles to clear, but in the end the city, future tenants and hometown proprietors will be rewarded with quality housing at affordable prices.

“It’s a very important accomplishment. One thing I want to reiterate to the community is that the land will be cleaned,” Cortez said.


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