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Homes Families Can Buy From Caltrans Might Not Be Theirs To Keep, Attorney Determines

SOUTH PASADENA (CBSLA) — Suzanne Talbot raised three kids and built a catering business out of the South Pasadena home she's rented through a low-income program for nearly 40 years.

"I've been waiting and waiting and waiting," she said. "To me and my children, the house has meant everything."

For decades, the house was threatened by the proposed extension of the 710 freeway, which is now off the table.

Last month, Talbot, 67, was one of six tenants approved by the California Transportation Commission to buy the homes they've rented from Caltrans.

Market value for hers is about $800,000. But Talbot is getting it for just over $150,000.

"Man, it's like winning the lottery," she said.

But real estate attorney Christopher Sutton says not so fast.

He's representing a handful of renters suing Caltrans for adjusting the sale prices for inflation.

"The tenants don't get the property for themselves," Sutton said. "And don't essentially get an $800,000 property for this low price."

Sutton says Caltrans isn't following a law that requires the agency to offer the homes to low-income tenants at reduced prices.

On top of that, the new owners' families can't inherit the properties.

"No matter what price the tenants pay," Sutton said, "the tenants don't get the ... equity."

That's right. Talbot's family will not get back the equity when she's gone.

They can, however, get back the only original purchase price, which isn't sitting well with her.

But staying put is also a priority at this stage of her life.

"It's a really nice neighborhood here," she said. "I love my neighbors. I've known them forever.  I love it here."

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