By Larson, Christine
Aging Today , Vol. 27, No. 6
When Eva Plasencio moved into Angelus Plaza, she didn't realize she was moving into a whole new phase of life. For 30 years, Plasencio had worked as a hairdresser in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. Shortly after she retired, her husband died and she was suddenly unable to afford her own home. Supported only by Social Security, she lived with one relative after another until her name came up on the waiting list for Angelus Plaza, the largest affordable senior housing development in the United States.
For Plasencio, 81, Angelus Plaza provided far more than a pleasant, affordable apartment. Once shy and retiring, she now spends her days in a flurry of activities. On a typical day, Plasencio might gather signatures for her state senator, attend a meeting of the Congress of California Seniors or serve lunch at the onsite senior nutrition program.
"I'm not the same person I was before I retired," she says. "All the activities have made me grow."
Angelus Plaza is home to some 1,300 low-income older adults like Plasencio. Most residents, who average age 78, pay about $260 to live in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, within walking distance of the new Disney Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Art and numerous other amenities. The success of "Angelus Plaza can be seen in its waiting list (some 1,700 people vie for about ioo vacancies a year), and more importantly, in the vibrant, active lives of residents. "What made Angélus Plaza a success from the beginning is the great support that the City of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency put into it," said Laverne Joseph, president and CEO of Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF), which built and manages Angelus Plaza.
The complex, which opened in 1981 with 761 apartments, was the product of a close collaboration between city, federal and nonprofit entities. The City of Los Angeles donated the land through its Redevelopment Agency/Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project, which also provided a $10 million loan for initial site work. The loan has since been repaid.
Furthermore, the City Housing Authority issued tax-exempt bonds to finance construction; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided section 8 rental subsidies; and Retirement Housing Foundation built the initial three residential towers and a five story multipurpose senior center. HUD-provided mortgage insurance and the City Housing Authority issued more tax-exempt bonds to finance an additional 332 apartments in a fourth residential tower which opened in 1982.
On the open market, an apartment like Plasencio's in the historic Bunker Hill district would cost nearly $1,000 a month. But Angelus Plaza residents-who must be at least 62 or have a disability to qualify-pay no more than 30% of their income in rent. HUD Section 8 subsidies make up the difference.
Although the subsidies ensure decent housing for residents, it takes more than affordable apartments to foster a thriving community. "What makes Angelus Plaza a success today is its ability to serve not only residents but seniors throughout downtown," Joseph said.
The centerpiece for that service is the Angelus Plaza Senior Activity Center, which serves all older adults in the surrounding community. …