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Bell Moves Toward Eviction of Low-Income Tenants After Starving the Housing Authority of Funds

 

The city starved the Housing Authority of funds, then used the revenue shortfall to rationalize a potential sale of the property. The authority’s website does not list its latest annual financial report, violating California’s Health and Safety Code Section 34328. 

By Gwilym McGrew (Editor – Watchourcity.com ~ Los Angeles, CA)  • December 23, 2020, Reprinted with permission.

 

BELL (WOC) – Bell city leaders appear to have created a financial crisis and are using that shortfall to justify the eventual displacement of low-income tenants and the potential sale of their low income mobile home properties at a City Council meeting tonight.

The City turned away vitally needed revenue that would have assisted in bond payoffs and capital improvements. Denying this revenue to the city’s Housing Authority was gross mismanagement of the city’s assets.

It has been an open secret that the Bell City Council and Bell City Attorney Dave Aleshire of the Irvine-based law firm of Aleshire & Wynder LLP, have been discussing for several months, mainly behind closed doors, the potential sale of the city owned low-income housing known as the Florence Village Mobile Home & RV Park.

The City appears to have deliberately misled Bell citizens earlier in the year when it denied in writing that these properties were being considered for sale.

As a result of the perceived deception, wild conspiracies theories have swirled in the City of Bell for months involving a council member said to have an  eye on the huge property for acquisition by well-connected friends.

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THE MOBILE HOME park on Gage is nearly 5 acres located only one-half mile from the busy 710 freeway.

 

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In a shameful twist of semantics, interim City Manager Paul Philips stated in a February 2020 letter on city letterhead,  “The Bell City Council HAS NOT directed me to investigate, advise or take any steps to sell the mobile home parks.”

Citizens who read this sentence understood that, properly parsed, Philips was not denying a sale was being discussed and debated by the Council, but rather they had not YET put him in motion to develop a plan that would eventually lead to the sale of the property.

Coldly and in slick fashion, Philips ended the letter by claiming “Often rumors can get out of hand” when in fact such discussions were actually happening within the Bell City Hall, and, according to sources, Philips was aware.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS, YOU’RE EVICTED”

Now it appears the “rumors” Philip denied are coming to light and in full view of the public as evidenced in the agenda for tonight’s City Council meeting.

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Agenda item from tonight’s City Council meeting

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The City hopes to slink through authorization, that may result in the property’s eventual sale and tenant evictions, in a “Zoom Meeting” during a holiday week a mere two days before Christmas. “Merry Christmas, you’re evicted” one citizen proclaimed.

The property consists of mobile home sites that are rented on a contractual basis by the Bell Community Housing Authority (BCHA) which manages the property. Two massive locations, one on Gage Ave. and one on Florence Ave., are being considered for transfer and possible liquidation.

The city has claimed that the properties are a financial hardship while at the same time it has discouraged rentals of vacant mobile home sites that would add needed revenue. Some citizens claim a deliberate starving of revenue designed to make a sale of the property more palatable.

BCHA Finances – A Foreseeable Financial Implosion
Despite promises of transparency by the city, the BCHA website does not list the latest annual reports of its activities, violating the California Health and Safety Code Section 34328 that states, “at least once a year, an authority shall file with the clerk of the respective city or county and with the Department of Housing and Community Development a report (“Annual Report”) of its activities for the preceding year.”

The Bell Community Housing Authority website lists the 2016 and 2017 reports but not the 2018 or 2019 reports leaving citizens to request these through formal records requests (WatchOurCity.com has requested these documents). This is something the city pledged not to force citizens to do for such basic reports.

The latest public report on the BCHA website, 2016-17, shows Actual Total Revenue in fact exceeded the budgeted revenue by over $85,000. There was no revenue shortfall.

In addition, actual Total Expenses were $189,589 better than budgeted. The Ending Fund Balance for the BCHA was $149,000 lower at the end of the term but fully $275,247 better than budgeted.

A mere 5% increase in rents during the year would have more than balanced the agency’s finances.

WatchOurCity.com has obtained a document that a Bell citizen claims to have received in a records request regarding the Bell mobile home properties.

In the September 2018 Memorandum, Bell City Manager Howard Brown wrote to Christina Pena and other Bell officials regarding an “Updated Mobile Home Park Occupancy and Development Policy.”

Brown copied Adrian Guerra the Assistant City Attorney on the staff of Aleshire & Wynder.

The memo sets out a plan that has the effect of denying needed revenue to the BCHA run mobile home parks by no longer renting out RV spaces and apparently limiting new mobile home rentals as well.

Sources told WatchOurCity.com  that the city was in a constant tug of war with residents on the condition of their residences and this memo was an effort to ensure the residents and their residences met all qualifications.

Leaving large numbers of RV spaces and mobile home spaces vacant was clear financial mismanagement. The city failed to fill all spots and vital revenue dropped as a result low occupancy.

In addition, the city admits it bowed to pressure from residents and did not raise rents for over 5 years.

Leaving spaces unoccupied coupled with no rent increases doomed the BCHA finances.

In a recent report on the BCHA parks, the city ignored the financial mismanagement by stating, “perhaps BCHA is not an effective landlord.”

That report states that the BCHA reserves were $3.3 million in 2015 but have dropped to $1.8 million recently.

Simple math shows that compounding the rental revenue by a 5% annual rent increase a year would have led to BCHA solvency if the parks operated at reasonable and proper occupancy levels.

WatchOurCity.com reached out to several Bell City Council members, the City Attorney, and Acting City Manager for comment on this mismanagement but all wished to remain silent.

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