By MATT SANDERSON
SILVER LAKE — It was only a few weeks ago when 87-year-old Natalie Moore appeared to be on the verge of homelessness. The run-down Coronado Street apartment building where she had resided in for more than 40 years had a gaping hole in its roof and a ceiling that collapsed during a recent rain. City housing inspectors had declared the place uninhabitable, and Moore had been ordered to vacate in 30 days. But now, thanks to a pair of neighbors who came to her aid, Moore is living temporarily in a cozy cottage while her apartment building undergoes extensive renovations.
“I like my old neighborhood because I knew everybody there,” said Moore during an interview in her temporary home about a mile away from her Coronado Street apartment. “I was in a motel for awhile, but everything turned out okay for me.”
Her fearless neighbors, Rebecca Taylor and Anne Hars, have been at her side every step of the way during her housing ordeal. While Moore was being interviewed for this story, the two made sure the heat was running, curtains were hung, the three cats and dog were fed, and all the donated furnishings were in place – including the Christmas lights and decorations.
“Rebecca does all of the talking for me to straighten things out,” Moore said, “and Anne is casual, nice and has lots of patience … They’re like my step sisters.” (continued below)
Moore’s world since the 1970s has encompassed a three-block circle around her apartment at 624 N Coronado Street in Silver Lake. Known for her smile and long white hair, she greeted neighbors with a friendly “hello” when she walked to the corner store on Temple Street. She loves her pets and was often seen caring for her plants outside her apartment.
Born in East Los Angeles, Moore graduated from Garfield High School in 1942. She worked as a telephone operator, a dental assistant and a singer with a “well known band” in Hollywood who once appeared in Variety. But she does not like to reflect on that past. Today she has no family connections except for a cousin who lives in La Puente.
Taylor, her husband and two children have lived next door to Moore for five years. Moore’s cats would often wander beyond the fence, and Taylor would bring them home to her. It wasn’t until then that she began to notice how dilapidated Moore’s home really was.
“She has a very low fixed income,” said Taylor, noting that Moore collects Social Security benefits and, with 40 years under rent control, she pays roughly $350 a month in rent, an unheard of figure in 2014 given L.A.’s lack of affordable housing.
According to Taylor and Hars, Moore’s original landlord passed away in December 2013, leaving the 1920s Craftsman-style five-plex in poor condition. “She didn’t have plumbing,” Hars said. (continued below)
But conditions worsened after a new owner began what neighbors said were illegal renovations, gutting units, tearing the roof off the building and intimidating Moore by telling her she had move out in a week. Taylor, a Congressional policy analyst, intervened to make sure her neighbor had a voice and that her wishes were known – she wanted to stay put.
“She didn’t want the relocation money,” Taylor said. “She had no interest. She just wants to stay in her unit.”
Then, after undergoing some unpermitted demolition, the building was sold again on Oct. 1 for $600,000 to 1 Valley View Group. The following month, the Los Angeles Housing Department declared the building unsafe and ordered it vacated by the end of the month.
When Taylor and Hars realized that Moore could potentially be homeless by Christmas, they rallied the neighborhood. They set up a Gmail account called “Help House Natalie” to keep the community informed about Moore’s situation, and held a plant and bake sale before Thanksgiving that raised almost $2,000 to help Moore pay a security deposit and first month’s rent on a new place. They also raised Moore’s plight with city officials.
After it became apparent that their order to vacate the building would leave Moore homeless, city housing officials rescinded the order in late November and gave the new landlord two days to make emergency repairs to correct the problems left by the previous owners.
“She wouldn’t be able to afford wherever she moves,” said Roberto Aldape, Assistant General Manager at the L.A. Housing Department.
Repairs were underway in early December when Moore’s bathroom ceiling, covered only with a blue tarp, collapsed during a rain storm as a city inspector and the owners were present. That’s when Taylor and Hars helped gather all of Moore’s important belongings in case she needed to vacate.
Eventually, Moore’s new landlord placed her in a nearby motel and later in a temporary new home until she can return to Coronado Street. According to landlord Brad Wiedmann, Moore’s building needed a new roof and other extensive repairs.
“We’ve seen properties this bad, but never seen [them] with someone living in it,” said Wiedmann, who estimates that it will take up to eight months to complete the repairs. “It was just horrible. It had to be horrible for a long time.”
Moore will return to her apartment when the repairs are complete under the same terms and conditions, said senior housing inspector Brian Beltran. Moore will also receive assistance from Meals on Wheels, Beltran added.
The housing officials credit Taylor and Hars for coming through for Moore. “If she did not have those people advocating, you’d definitely see a different situation,” said Aldape
Hars, an architect and artist, said she’s helping other elderly residents on Coronado Street to make sure new owners and developers follow the rules. During Moore’s ordeal, both women reminded themselves that one day they may also need to depend on fearless neighbors for help. “We’re future old ladies,” Hars said.
For more information, visit the tenant habitability plan on the LAHD’s website.
Matt Sanderson has been a journalist, photographer and digital media producer for nearly eight years. A native of Rhode Island, he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire and moved to Los Angeles in 2012 through a job transfer with Patch.com/AOL.