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L.A. Slow to Spend Federal Housing Funds, Study Says

March 10, 1989|GLENN F. BUNTING | Times Staff Writer

At a time when many Los Angeles public housing projects are mired in slum conditions, the City Housing Authority has taken up to five years to spend millions of dollars in federal housing improvement funds, an independent report has found.

The study by the accounting firm of Deloitte Haskins & Sells, obtained by The Times, concluded that the Housing Authority has allowed numerous contracting delays in processing a total of $35 million in modernization funds in recent years.

The report said it takes the authority an average of 518 days to hire an architect and nearly three years to contract engineering work. These delays do not "reflect the urgency both HUD and (the Housing Authority) acknowledged when prioritizing and allocating funds to those projects," the report said. The report, received by board members in January, did not identify causes for the delays.

Mayor Tom Bradley said Thursday that he is aware of the delays and finds them unacceptable.

Mayor Sends Letter

The mayor said he sent a letter to the Housing Authority saying: "The procedures take far too much time. I want them to reduce that time and take action immediately."

At Bradley's request, the Housing Authority staff is expected to submit a proposal to trim the contracting period to one year at a board meeting today.

The Housing Authority is in jeopardy of losing future modernization funds if the delays in contracting procedures continue, said HUD spokesman Scott Reed.

The report, ordered by HUD officials last year, concluded that the Housing Authority has met a five-year deadline set by the federal government to spend the money.

But, the report said, the money has been spent too slowly for renovation projects, given the substandard living conditions in many of the city's 21 housing projects.

The report follows recent disclosures in The Times that the Housing Authority lost $5 million in improvement funds for the dilapidated Jordan Downs housing project in Watts last fall after Executive Director Leila Gonzalez-Correa revealed a controversial plan to sell the project to a private developer. The Times also reported that Gonzalez-Correa has awarded contracts to her acquaintances and to political supporters of Bradley without using competitive bids as required by federal regulations.

Gonzalez-Correa declined to discuss the independent report on Thursday. But in an interview last month, she conceded that HUD officials are "very, very upset . . . that the money has not been expended as quickly as they would like. It's unconscionable to get money and take five years in spending this money when there are such needs out there," she said. Gonzales-Correa has headed the agency since October, 1986.

The report confirms complaints by low-income tenants that the Housing Authority has not fulfilled promises to repair broken-down kitchens, bathrooms, walls, windows and floors in the city's housing projects, said Charles F. Elsesser, a Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation attorney.

Complaints From Residents

"We often get complaints from residents about how long it takes to implement projects," Elsesser said. "The residents are saying that they were promised and told about these programs and how they were going to happen. Long periods of time went by and nothing occurred."

Elsesser cited the multimillion-dollar face lift announced in July, 1987, by Bradley and Gonzalez-Correa for the huge Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts. Under the plan, Nickerson Gardens is to be divided into village-like compounds with their own managers, color schemes, laundry facilities, playgrounds and additional landscaping and lighting. So far, the 1,064-unit project has received only a fresh coat of paint and new windows.

Bradley said he learned of the unusual contracting delays recently when he became involved in a Housing Authority plan to use federal money from HUD's Comprehensive Improvement Assistance Program to erect a security fence surrounding Jordan Downs. Bradley said Housing Authority officials told him it would take a year to prepare the fencing project before it could be forwarded to HUD for approval.

"It took an entire year just to complete the review and recommendations; that is totally unacceptable to me. They must move much more expeditiously," Bradley said.

HUD officials notified Gonzalez-Correa in a July 27, 1988, letter that they were "very concerned" about the Housing Authority's contracting delays. Reed said that HUD ordered the Housing Authority to use an independent consulting firm to study the problem.

Commissioners Upset

Gonzalez-Correa did not tell board members she had commissioned the $9,500 report until members were given copies of it at a January board meeting. Several commissioners became upset because the firm advised board members to allow Gonzalez-Correa more latitude in administering contracts at a time when they are seeking stricter controls on her spending activities.

The Times reported last month that the Deloitte Haskins & Sells consulting agreement was one of six contracts that Gonzalez-Correa had awarded without following federal procurement regulations. Gonzalez-Correa issued the consulting contract to Deloitte--which has contributed $3,500 to the Bradley campaign since 1986--"without any evidence" of a competitive bid, the city attorney's office said in a Jan. 20 letter.

The consultant's report uncovered several deficiencies in the Housing Authority's contracting procedures but failed to identify the causes, said Gary Squier, the mayor's liaison to the Housing Authority.

"The potential answer is somebody is sitting on their hands not doing any work or they are not competent to run a rehabilitation project," Squier said.

Times staff writer Frederick M. Muir contributed to this story.

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