Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who had agreed to place 12 trailers for homeless families at the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts, has changed her mind because of the large number of vacant apartments in the project.
In a letter to the city's Housing Authority released Monday, Flores said she will not allow trailers at the project until the authority reduces "the large number of vacant, boarded-up units." About 10% of the 700 apartments in the project are unoccupied, according to the Housing Authority.
'Improve What We Have'
"We should first improve what we have there, rather than adding more units," said Bernie Evans, Flores' chief deputy. Flores, who represents Watts and the harbor area, is on a trade mission in the Middle East and was unavailable for comment.
Leila Gonzalez-Correa, executive director of the Housing Authority, said the authority has had difficulty filling units at Jordan Downs--the vacancy rate was as high as 40% early last year--because of plumbing and other maintenance problems as well as the project's reputation as a center for gang and drug activity. The vacancy rate at the agency's other projects is below 3%, she said.
The housing at this and other public projects is made available to low-income individuals or families.
Gonzalez-Correa said the agency will ask the City Council next week for $1.4 million in emergency funding to pay for plumbing repairs and said the agency has prepared an application to the federal government for more than $10 million to refurbish the project and provide additional security.
"During the earthquake, we had a lot of homeless people who did not want to reside there because of the serious crime problems," she said. "We have very serious problems at Jordan Downs. It is our worst one."
Despite the problems, Gonzalez-Correa said she hopes to persuade Flores to accept the 12 trailers because, she said, the high vacancy rate in the project does not reduce the need for housing for homeless families.
"We are talking about two different kinds of people," she said. "We cannot serve the homeless people in our projects because they are not on our waiting lists. They need the trailers."
The city has purchased 102 trailers as temporary housing for homeless families. Most of the trailers are slated to be placed on the grounds of several public housing projects, but the city has still been unable to find sites for about two dozen trailers. In her letter to Gonzalez-Correa, Flores refused six of the 12 trailers scheduled to be placed at another project in her district--Normont Terrace in Harbor City--because of community opposition.
Evans said Flores decided to reject the 12 trailers at Jordan Downs after two of her deputies visited the housing project last week and noted dozens of boarded-up apartments. "It was somewhat of a surprise that there were this many," Evans said.
Gonzalez-Correa said most apartments sit empty for about three months after a tenant leaves, in large part because of the backlog in work that needs to be done and because of the lengthy process of finding tenants who are both acceptable to the Housing Authority and willing to live at the project. She said the units are boarded shut to prevent vandalism.
"The minute a unit becomes vacant, it becomes vandalized," she said. "We have to remove the refrigerator, the range and the commode and anything else that can be carried away."
Evans said Flores has not shut the door on the trailers, saying she will be willing to accept them once she sees some progress at Jordan Downs.