The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 10, 2014

Low on income but living in Beverly Hills

LOS ANGELES — From the balcony of her Crescent Drive apartment, Shari Able takes in the luxurious view — a picture-postcard panorama of the homes of Beverly Hills. Her home sits above a Whole Foods stocked with organic kabocha squash and Dungeness crabs. Rodeo Drive’s boutiques are a brisk walk away.

But the 74-year-old is quick to warn elderly suitors who think her 90210 ZIP code means a cushy bank account. Her federally subsidized apartment costs her roughly $200 a month, she said.

“I told one guy from Long Beach, ‘I live in Beverly Hills, but it’s the only HUD building in Beverly Hills,’ ” Able recalled one morning over coffee and madeleines. “He said thanks — and hung up!”

In the American imagination, “Beverly Hills” is shorthand for the good life — movie stars, mansions, Maseratis. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the average household income in Beverly Hills is nearly $193,000 annually, well more than double the national average. But those rarefied statistics mask a more complicated reality. While the richest fifth of Beverly Hills households make an average of nearly $661,000, the poorest bring in less than $14,500.

That means the wealthiest fifth make more than 45 times as much as the poorest fifth, the biggest gap between rich and poor among California cities of similar size or larger, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of Census Bureau estimates spanning 2010 to 2012. Roughly one out of nine households in Beverly Hills, population 35,000, are categorized as “extremely low income,” city documents show, with single people earning less than $17,950 and two-person households bringing in less than $20,050.

“These issues of concern do exist in Beverly Hills,” said Rochelle Ginsburg, chairwoman of the city’s human relations commission. “It’s not just Rodeo Drive.”

And nowhere is that more obvious than at the apartments above the Whole Foods. The building is indeed the only housing in Beverly Hills subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city officials say. Its elderly residents include longtime Beverly Hills denizens who suffered catastrophic health problems or failed to save adequately for retirement, along with poor Angelenos who had previously lived elsewhere.

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