CITY COUNCIL: Officials explore ways to prevent seniors-only residences from being converted.

10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 By HERBERT ATIENZA The Press-Enterprise

HEMET – Over the years, Hemet has built a reputation as a haven for seniors.  City officials say a proposal they are considering would help make sure Hemet stays that way. A plan that has been discussed by the Hemet Planning Commission would make it more difficult for seniors-only housing to convert to all-ages housing by requiring applicants to:

Pay increased school fees; Meet stricter parking requirements set for non senior housing; Perform additional environmental analysis to see how the proposed switch would impact the surrounding neighborhood.

Hemet is home to a number of communities where residents must be 55 or older to live there. “The goal is to keep as many senior-housing units intact as we can,” Councilwoman Lori VanArsdale said. She said federal law prevents the city from enacting ordinances that would force people to offer seniors-only housing, but the city could impose requirements that would reduce the negative economic and environmental effects of housing conversions.

“I am emphatically against these conversions,” Van Arsdale said.  She said conversions negatively impact the community by burdening schools, requiring more police resources, and reducing the number of homes available for senior citizens. She said the impetus for discussions were concerns brought by school district officials in recent months about how schools are negatively impacted by housing conversions. She also pointed to city studies that show more calls for police are being made from former senior-citizen mobile-home parks that have converted to accommodate all ages.

City Planning Director Richard Masyczek said that at present seniors-only communities are kept that way by covenants and restrictions.  He said that if the proposal is approved, large seniors-only communities, such as the sprawling Sierra Dawn Estates, could be protected from conversion, because it would be difficult to create additional parking there that is required for regular homes.

“I am not in a forgiving mood for people who want to convert,” Mayor Robin Lowe said. “There are too many seniors living below poverty level who cannot afford housing.” She said the proposal will come before the City Council’s housing committee in the next few weeks for further debate.