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Boldness on Housing

January 11, 1988

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has a bold plan to raise more than $2 billion over 20 years to build and rehabilitate housing for homeless people, desperate families and the working poor. He wants to raise the ceiling on spending by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, but he needs help from Councilman Ernani Bernardi, support from the county and approval from the court. His best bet is to produce a firm and specific plan.

The mayor wants to raise the agency spending limit from its present total of $750 million, imposed in 1977, to $5 billion. Half the new dollars would go to housing and related services for the homeless throughout the city. The plan might well earmark rental housing for the working poor who earn less than $20,000, include a mix of new housing for large families and additional shelters and one-room apartments for the homeless. Those are the most critical needs.

Thousands of families live in overcrowded, substandard and unsafe housing and still spend nearly half their income on rent. Thousands of men and women have no housing at all. As many as 400,000 families have serious housing problems, according to city estimates, and the numbers probably will get worse because so little low-rent housing is coming onto the market.

The mayor would allocate the other half of the money that would be available with a higher ceiling to redevelopment projects already planned or in the pipeline. He should guarantee in writing that the new money would not mean a new burst of development downtown.

As federal housing funds dwindle, the agency is a logical source of significant new housing revenue. Agency projects are expected to generate billions of dollars in property taxes over the next 20 years, but only a fraction can be spent under the 1977 ceiling that was set after Bernardi challenged the priorities of the downtown redevelopment program. He argued for more housing for lowincome people. Finally, he and county officials sued, and the court set the spending limit.

Bernardi is willing to discuss raising the spending ceiling as the mayor develops his plan because he believes, rightly, that the city badly needs money for housing. But he also has plenty of questions, as do county officials.

For one thing, an increase in the redevelopment spending limit would divert billions in property taxes from the county treasury. Negotiations that focus on careful planning and cautious spending ought to prompt a compromise.

Los Angeles has a major housing crisis and a significant homeless problem. Absent substantial federal help, Bradley has few choices. His ambitious proposal is at least a step in the right direction. Now for the details.

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