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First Priority: Blight-Busting

February 17, 1991

Community redevelopment is intended to eliminate blight and create affordable housing, but this powerful tool, created nearly four decades ago by the state, has been misused by some communities.

To discourage continued misuse of redevelopment, the state Legislature has narrowed the definition of blight. The reform has prevented repetition of the travesty in Indian Wells, an affluent community near Palm Springs, which used redevelopment tools to create two championship golf courses several years ago.

Indian Wells enjoyed the benefits of redevelopment, then tried to circumvent state regulations requiring that 20% of the property taxes generated by new development be used for affordable housing. Poway, an upscale community in San Diego County, used housing dollars for curbs and street lights.

A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Los Angeles), would make it harder for communities to get around the affordable housing requirement. The measure, AB 315, would also raise the portion of property taxes set aside for this purpose to 40%. Communities that have ducked their responsibilities would have to set aside 50%.

Friedman's measure would also require the agencies to rebuild housing destroyed by commercial projects with funds from sources other than the earmarked housing account, thus assuring an increase in the overall supply. It would double the percentage of low-income units in redevelopment projects and set a stricter timetable for housing development.

Too many communities drag out the process or try to avoid compliance. Hundreds of millions of dollars remain unspent in a fund that is the state's largest source of money for low- and moderate-income housing despite a severe shortage.

Redevelopment, when it works best, rejuvenates blighted areas. It creates jobs in new office buildings and stores as well as affordable housing for the new employees, all in areas that private developers shun without redevelopment incentives.

Friedman's bill is far from perfect, but it is certain to advance the public debate toward a higher priority for affordable housing.

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