A few weeks ago, Domos Coliving contacted local media, including the Buzz, with an announcement that it has finalized its design and development concepts for 410 N. Rossmore, with the help of Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects.
This project first came to our attention back in February, when Domos representatives presented the project at the last in-person meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee. In addition to Domos, which bought the building earlier this year, the Land Use meeting was also attended by a large number of 410’s current residents, who objected vehemently to Domos’ proposal and presented a petition signed by 42 of the building’s 54 tenants, opposing the new owners’ plans to convert the building into a mix of single, one bedroom, and “co-living” spaces.
The project has not been reviewed at any public meetings since February, but with the new renderings making the rounds, we decided to check in with both the developers and tenants to see how plans are coming along, and how discussions between the tenants and the developers have progressed since last winter. The answer, it turns out, depends on who you talk to.
Since no renderings were provided at the Domos’ GWNC presentation in Feburary, the recently-released images (including the one at the top of this story) were the first public look at the project since Domos proposed it.
Overall, the project will completely re-do all the residential units in the building, creating a mix of studio, 1 bedroom and the aforementioned “coliving” units, in which four or five bedrooms will be rented individually to people sharing a common kitchen and living room. In addition, the project will add several stories to the top of the existing structure (see photo above), as well as gym and amenity space on the ground floor, “coworking extension spaces,” a pool, spa, lounge deck and event space on the roof, and additional “open, outdoor living spaces” on other floors.
410 N. Rossmore was originally built in the 1930s, with further work done in succeeding decades (though it was never completed as originally imagined). But it is not as elaborate or considered as historic as some other more famous buildings on North Rossmore. That said, however, Richard Loring, Domos’ Director of Design and Construction for the project, told the Buzz that the developers have “decided to embrace the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for preservation/restoration,” and will take care to blend the new and old elements of the remodeled building.
As part of this effort, Loring said three sides of the existing building will not be significantly altered, except for paint and crack repairs. Along with more extensive renovations on the fourth side of the building, Loring said the front entry – which is not original – will be redesigned to allow handicap access, which is not currently provided.
The biggest change, however, will be the addition of four new stories to the building. Loring said the new upper stories of the enlarged structure will echo the pattern of “vertical striations” in the original building, and will be stepped back from the original building’s perimiter, so they don’t interrupt the orignal facade. The new stories will also decrease in size as they rise, so they don’t overwhelm the mass of the original building.
As for other design elements, Loring said new windows in the project will not be “precise replications” of the existing steel casement windows, but although they will probably be made out of aluminum, with different pane patterns, they will keep the “verticality” of the original windows, so the overall appearance should be similar.
Among other exterior details, Loring noted that there is outdoor space available on the current podium level, which was originally intended to be used for garden and additional parking spaces that were never built, and which will be reimagined in this project.
Also, the current driveways, which are original, will remain as they are, but parking will be expanded with the addition of lifts in the existing garage, to double its capacity. (There are currently 62 parking spaces, which will grow to 130-140 after the remodel.) How that number stacks up to city requirements, however, is yet to be determined, Loring said, because the city does not include specific parking rules for 3-5 bedroom units in its current building standards.
Finally, Loring said, the current landscaping will also be replaced, and the existing cypress and ficus trees (which he referred to as “big weeds” whose disadvantages weren’t recognized when they were originally planted) will be replaced with “something more appropriate to the times we live in.”
Overall, Loring said, the building’s new look, when finished, should provide “an intermediate step” between the Country Club Manor apartment building to its south, and the historic El Royale apartments just to the north.
New Living Spaces
The four new floors, according to Domos’ press announcement, will considerably expand the building’s residential space. Currently, the now-five-story building contains a mix of studio and one-bedroom units. The new building will also have studios and one-bedrooms in about 60% of its space, but the remaining 40% will be devoted to the new coliving units, with 4-5 bedrooms arranged around a common kitchen and living room, housing a total of 225 residents in both kinds of spaces. (Note that because the co-living units have four or five bedrooms each, those units will contain the majority of the building’s residents, even though they represent only 40% of the total number of units.)
Designer Lorcan O’Herlihy, quoted in Domos’ press release, said the project “represents a new paradigm and contribution for helping to address LA’s housing crisis,” that the coliving option “presents an alternative housing model,” and “I believe co-living is part of the future of smart growth in Los Angeles.”
According to Domos Coliving Co-Founder Daniel Alexander, who spoke to the Buzz along with Loring in November, each of the 4-5 bedrooms in the co-living units will be leased individually, and are expected to rent for 10-20% less than other small apartments in the neighborhood (where studios currently rent for $2,200-$3,000). There will be one tenant per bedroom in the co-living spaces, or 4-5 tenants per co-living unit, which Loring said is roughly equivalent to the 4.2-person average household size in the United States.
Alexander and Loring also explained that the current building has no common spaces for tenants beyond a hallway and mailbox area on the first floor. So the remodeling project will reconfigure all the apartments on the first floor to make room for new amenity spaces.
At the contentious GWNC presentation in February, current tenants of the building, many of whom have lived there for several decades, with rents significantly lower than market rate, complained that they had not been adequately notified of the new owner/developers’ intentions for the property. They also noted that – despite city regulations stating that current tenants must be allowed to return to their same units, at the same rent, after a big remodel – that won’t be possible with a total reconfiguration like this, and they fear they’ll lose both their homes and money in the long run.
“They are trying to trick people out of rent controlled leases by offering relocation packages and saying this building will be under construction in the next few months,” resident Debbie Chesebro said at the February meeting. “The idea that they are going to increase affordable living while they are kicking 54 people out of rent controlled leases is absurd.”
But Alexander and Loring say a lot has changed since then.
First, they said, much of the initial outcry from tenants was likely due to poor initial communications from Domos…but they said they have since worked hard to make sure all tenants now have the information they need to make informed decisions about their future living spaces. In fact, said Alexander and Loring in November, they have talked now with “every single resident” in the building, to explain the situation in greater detail, and everyone understands that they will have to move out at least temporarily during construction, and that after that, people can either decide to return to new units in the fully remodeled building or take a cash buyout.
And so far, they said, the “large majority” of residents have oped for the buyout. Others, they said, will return to new units in the building, at their current rent. (They added, however, that even though this is a rent controlled building under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, the City has approved a slight rent increase after the major renovations, with another small increase the following year.)
According to Alexander and Loring at the time we spoke in November, 16 residents so far have said they will return to the building after construction, though that number may be “fluid” because of the current COVID-19 pandemic and changing situations for each individual. Alexander and Loring also said about 12 tenants so far have moved out in recent months…and others who have opted to move out, but haven’t done so yet, are receiving free rent until they’re ready to leave.
In addition, Loring said Domos also offered a rent forgiveness program during the early pandemic months from April through June, and an offer of three months’ rent deferral, with three months of rent forgiveness is still on the table for those who need it. Also, he said, if tenants do decide to take a buyout offer to leave the building after construction, Domos will forgive any rent owed.
All units will likely be vacant, Loring and Alexander said, by May of 2021. Construction is tentatively scheduled to start in June or July, and will take about 20-22 months.
And finally, while tenants had also complained in February about lack of management attention to the building itself after Domos’ purchase, Loring says that, too, has changed – especially since he moved into the building himself in March, and can now be an on-site contact for many kinds of issues.
While researching this story, the Buzz tried to contact several tenants we heard protests from earlier this year. Some did not respond to our inquiries, and some – at least one of whom no longer lives in the building – declined to go on record with further comments. But four current, long-term tenants did respond to our queries, and all of them said they are still quite upset with the situation at 410. All of them also asked not to be identified here, saying they are afraid of “retaliation” from the owners. So they are referred to below as Residents A, B, C and D.
One of the tenants’ biggest complaints – which we heard from all four we spoke with – is that while the city’s housing laws say tenants have to be allowed to return to their same units after a major renovation (if they do choose to return to the building), that will be impossible in this case because the entire building is being gutted and reconfigured. And the new units will all be smaller, and differently configured than the residents’ current older-style, but considerably more spacious, units. They all agreed with Resident A, who said the value of an older RSO unit in this neighborhood is ultimately much higher than what Domos is offering after the renovations.
Resident A also said that although many tenants did wind up accepting Domos’ buyout offers, it’s not because it was such a good deal, but more because the offers started coming in April and May of this year, right at the point when many people were losing jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were afraid of instability in their housing situation. “When people are in the middle of a global pandemic…and someone dangles a buyout in front of you,” said Resident A, it’s hard to turn it down, no matter what the terms are.
Next, In addition to the current below-market rents for longtime tenants, Resident B said many of the building’s residents are older individuals, who particularly value the “safe” neighborhood where the building is located…and there’s nowhere else in the city where they can find the same level of safety for what they’re currently paying in rent. And that means, said Resident B, “The stress is beyond belief” among the building’s remaining tenants right now.
Resident B also said (as did others we talked to) that Domos’ relocation team sent generic letters to all tenants last spring, but tenants who chose not to respond to the letters at that time (whether out of anger, illness, employment issues, or other personal circumstances) have not had any further communications from the company, nor any offers of rent forbearance or forgiveness (despite what Alexander and Loring told us above). Resident B and the others said they have been paying their full rents as usual all year.
Resident B also noted that the building’s previous owners were apparently preparing the building to be cleared out after they sold it, but said nothing to tenants at the time. Instead, said Resident B, any time a tenant moved out, the owners replaced the former tenant with short-term rentals, via AirBnB and similar platforms, until the building was sold. And that activity, said Resident B, not only maintained income for the previous owner, without adding more long-term tenants, but also kept the remaining tenants from realizing the building was slowly emptying out until after it was sold to Domos and the short-term rentals stopped, making the number of vacancies suddenly more obvious.
After the sale, when word spread that the building was indeed being emptied, said Resident B, several tenants “went to war” and formed a tenant organization to fight the Domos plan when it was first announced. But then, said Resident B, one of more of the association leaders lost their jobs in the initial turndown after the pandemic hit, and many of them backed off their protests and began accepting Domos’ buyout offers.
“If you have no money, don’t have your job, can’t pay your rent,” Resident B said, you’d be much more likely to accept such an offer, even if it wasn’t fully adequate to make up for your losses.
Like the other tenant holdouts we spoke to, Resident B said they don’t want to come back to reconfigured apartments, without the same layout or space. “They’re not going to give me that back,” said Resident B. So “I’m not moving. They’ll have to drag me out kicking and screaming.”
Resident C acknowledged that when Domos staff got pushbacks from residents after their initial communications, they did change strategies, stressing their efforts to make the building safer and better for tenants in the long run. But while that sounds good on the surface, Resident C said, “it’s easy for tenants to read between the lines.” Also, like several of the other tenants we spoke with, Resident C charged that Domos representatives have created “a false sense of urgency” in their communications to tenants, giving deadlines for contacts and contracts, but then simply announcing new deadlines after the others passed without any action.
Resident C also noted that Richard Loring isn’t the only Domos representative now living in the building, and there is at least one other apartment occupied by Domos staff, who continue to bring in guests for noisy gatherings during the city’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Also like others we spoke to, Resident C said they feel that even if Domos’ buyout offers to tenants have in some cases been more than the city requires, they’re still inadequate to cover the “huge increase” in rent that tenants will face when they move elsewhere. Resident C acknowledges that everyone will have to move out for construction, but promised that won’t be the end of the fight. “I’ll move,” said Resident C. “I’ll come back. I’ll keep fighting. I’ll make time for that.”
And what would victory look like? Resident C said they would be happiest if Domos simply agrees to change its business model – fix up the building as much as possible, but leave the current units and configuration in place and drop the co-living plans.
Finally among the current residents we spoke to, Resident D, too, is concerned about the fact that no one will be able to return to their original units after construction. “I know what the law says for RSO Buildings,” said Resident D, “and that we can return back to our same building. But I think their plans [for the co-living arrangements] are nonsensical.” Resident D also agreed with the others in saying Domos has sent several fairly generic letters about the proposed buyouts but has done little to no personal communication with tenants who have not responded so far.
On the topic of current management, Resident D said that since Domos has taken over the building, there have been no physical improvements and “nothing has happened for the better.” In fact, said Resident D, Domos has reneged on several early promises, such as providing hand sanitizer and tissues near the elevators during the pandemic. And this makes it hard to take Domos’ other statements about their concern for tenant safety seriously, they said. For example, said Resident D, Domos tried to create a sense that tenants had to “rush, rush, rush to get out,” because they said building wasn’t safe to live in and needed many upgrades. But the deadlines for leaving keep being extended, said Resident D, and the building still feels quite safe.
At one point, Resident D said Domos told residents they had increased security patrols at the building, but tenants never saw any patrols, and there have since been a number of package and laundry thefts at the building. And when residents complained about the issue, Resident D says Domos representatives showed “no concern” beyond telling residents not to admit unauthorized guests. “They don’t seem concerned when it comes to real issues,” said Resident D.
On the other hand, Resident D said, tenants do see a lot of new people in the building, whom the tenants suspsect are Domos employees. But there has been no communications about this to long-term tenants, said Resident D. Also, said Resident D, while Richard Loring is living on site, and there is apparently a maintenance person living with him, that person was never offically introduced to the tenants, and no contact information was provided…even though there have been some serious maintenance issues, such as drain backups, in recent months.
Both Resident D and the others we spoke to said they aren’t sure who the new co-living spaces will appeal to, and that they can’t imagine anyone older than college age wanting to live in a small bedroom “while sharing a kitchen and living room with four strangers.” That’s “not coliving, it’s COVID living,” said Resident D, noting the physical risks of communal living during a pandemic. Also, suggested Resident D, anyone who can afford $1,900 a month or more will likely want their own apartment and their own private space, which is exactly what 410’s longtime residents (almost all of whom are well past college age) have always had…and quite adamantly do not want to give up.
This story was updated after its initial publication to add the before/after photo at the top of the story, and to revise the introductory paragraph in the section on Tenant Perspectives.