The Anderson Hotel Apartments building, a San Luis Obispo landmark, is in the process of being sold — leaving the Monterey Street building’s dozens of low-income tenants in limbo and raising questions about the future of one of the city’s few affordable housing complexes.
The Anderson has been a vital part of the downtown San Luis Obispo landscape for nearly a century, first as a hotel and later as apartments for low-income residents managed by the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo (HASLO).
Now, current owners Bob Miller and Ben McAdams of 995 Partnership are in escrow to sell the building to Mike Kyle, owner of Granada Hotel & Bistro in San Luis Obispo.
The sale has raised concerns among some tenants and HASLO leaders, who fear the valuable piece of downtown real estate — one of the few city complexes that provides housing for senior and disabled tenants — could be repurposed by developers.
Because both the buyer and seller are long-term locals, HASLO executive director Scott Smith said, “We are hopeful that they will have concern and respect for our SLO community and the extremely frail elderly and disabled occupying Anderson.”
“We are also hopeful that the city will use all of its policies regarding land use, protection of lower income tenants, and protecting against loss of downtown affordable housing, to ensure no harm comes to these residents as a result of the transfer in ownership,” Smith said. “We are not privy to the specific plans of the buyers with respect to the Anderson, but HASLO plans to continue assisting the residents financially, and there is no inherent reason why they should not be able to continue to call it their home in the future.”
Anderson Hotel a 100-year-old SLO landmark
Located at 955 Monterey St., the Anderson Hotel was built in 1923 and was refurbished as apartments in 1978 to house elderly and disabled residents, according to HASLO.
During its early days, the Anderson Hotel was famous for housing many celebrities, including Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich. Stars stopped at the hotel on their way to visit Hearst Castle, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst’s famed estate in San Simeon, according to the HASLO.
The hotel is one of San Luis Obispo’s tallest buildings, standing 65 feet tall at the parapet and 90 feet at the top of the bell tower, according to past Tribune articles.
The San Luis Obispo County Government Building, located across Monterey Street from the San Luis Obispo Superior Court courthouse annex, is 65 feet tall, and the city parking garage at Palm and Morro streets is 80 feet at its tallest point.
In recent years, the Anderson building has become worn in places with carpet stains, peeling paint and a chipped building exterior.
Kyle, who is set to become the Anderson’s new owner, previously renovated the Granada after purchasing that Morro Street property. He said he envisions the Anderson’s tenants remaining in the building for the foreseeable future.
Kyle said that he plans to update some of the exterior portions of the building, including new fixtures. He also wants to add new paint, new carpet and other upgrades to individual apartments as tenants move out.
“I have no plans to remodel the building (into) something completely different or new or anything like that,” Kyle said. “The changes and upgrades will be because this is an old, classic building that’s in need of some love.”
Affordable housing a challenge for disabled, senior residents
The tenants who live in the Anderson Hotel Apartments all pay a portion of their rent, and the rest is covered by HASLO-allocated federal housing subsidies based on their income levels. HASLO manages the hotel, although the agency will no longer do so once the new owner takes over.
After the ownership transfer, residents will be able to move out and use their subsidies as Section 8 vouchers to help pay for housing in any eligible rentals, Smith said in an email.
HASLO oversees 3,000 rental units throughout San Luis Obispo County, between the housing the agency owns and operates and the Section 8 voucher program it operates, Smith said. About half of those units are occupied by disabled or elderly renters, and one-bedroom and studio apartments like those at the Anderson can have waiting lists that are years-long, he said.
There is still a very limited supply of affordable housing throughout the county, and age and disability can make it even harder for tenants to find places to live, Smith said.
“The oldest occupant is in their late 80s and has not had had to look for housing for 17 years,” he said.
Tenant talks about life in apartment building
Kurt Weir, 68, has lived in his fifth-floor Anderson apartment for about five years, after the person who owned his previous housing died and their family had him move out.
Weir said his favorite part of his apartment is his view; he can see the Fremont Theater and other local landmarks.
“This place is never dark and seldom quiet,” he said of the Anderson. “And it’s 100 years old.”
Weir, who is disabled, lives on a fixed income of about $974 per month and currently pays $279 in monthly rent for his apartment.
He said he’ll likely be able to find new housing, whether it’s with a family member or in a different apartment complex. Weir is ready to move, mostly due to the lack of parking downtown and the declining condition of the building.
“As long as I (keep) my housing subsidy, I’ll be able to do something with that,” he said.
Smith said the Anderson building is “well-maintained” by HASLO staff, which was confirmed through inspections conducted by buyers and sellers.
“It has ‘age issues’ because it is a 100-plus year-old building, and the owners have been unwilling to put a penny into the building, despite receiving an enormous rent check from us every month,” Smith said in an email. “It needs a 21st-century renovation, and we had hoped the owners would work with us to make those renovations.”
Weir said he is willing to help other, more vulnerable residents find housing and move, as some of them are worried about being forced to leave the building.
“They hear rumors, they make up stuff and they’re worried,” Weir said of other tenants. “There’s been rumors they’re going to throw us out for a while.”
Weir said the Anderson Hotel Apartment occupies “valuable downtown space” and could be used as housing for residents who work in the area.
“This place is headed off for something else,” he said. “I’m glad I had it while I did.”