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Targeted for teardown: Empty Bell Garden apartments could go in May

Empty buildings deemed beyond useful lifespan by Placer officials
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The end could come this spring for the Bell Garden Apartments complex.

The apartment block is now empty of renters and owner Placer County is targeting May for demolition work to start.

The move to tear down the brick, World War II-era apartment buildings follows efforts by the county, aided by Auburn’s non-profit Latino Leadership Council, to find replacement housing for 25 families totaling 75 people living there.

Jim Durfee, Facility Services Department director, said that Legal Services of Northern California also played a role in developing a relocation plan that included payments to help residents find new homes.

Facility Services had budgeted $50,000 to pay for the relocation. Durfee said that efforts by Legal Services helped develop payments to occupants that were larger than initially conceived and reduced the amount that was to have been paid for consultants. With work as a third party by  the Latino Leadership Council to assist tenants, the county was able to stay within the $50,000 budget, he said.

“At the end of the day, it became a positive process,” Durfee said.

Elisa Herrera, coordinator of the Leadership Council, said a chief concern as her group moved through the relocation process with the county last year was finding affordable housing locally.

Rent at Bell Garden was $491 for 20 apartments. Twenty-five of the units had tenants with family income of less than $15,800, a Legal Services survey found. Eighty percent of the tenants were Hispanic and most were deemed monolingual.

By the time the last tenant left in December, none of the families that wanted to stay in the Auburn area had to move elsewhere, Herrera said. Relocation funding helped pay a rental deposit and moving expenditures, which are required under California State Relocation Law.

Some people decided to use their relocation funds to move out of the area to be closer to family, she said. Many residents moved to the nearby Auburn Greens and Snowcap View Apartments in North Auburn, which is close to Rock Creek School, Herrera said. A total of 21 children were part of the final group.

Former tenants are now paying a minimum of $100 more a month at their new residences, Herrera said.  None say they wanted to still be at Bell Garden, she said.

“Overall, it worked well,” Herrera said. “There was a lot of fear because people didn’t understand the process.”

The buildings to be torn down are the last of five that were part of a larger apartment complex owned by the county since the early 1970s.

In anticipation of the eventual dislocation of tenants, the buildings were initially used for medical staff housing when the Placer County Government Center was a military hospital during World War II. The other units were torn down about 10 years ago, leaving 28 units remaining in two buildings.