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WATTS : Bureaucracy Stalls Peace Corps Plan

August 15, 1993|SANDRA HERNANDEZ

A first-of-its-kind program that would bring Peace Corps volunteers to live and work in the Nickerson Gardens housing project has stalled because of communication problems among various parties involved.

Under the program, up to 12 returning Peace Corps volunteers would live and work with Nickerson Gardens residents to develop economic education programs while earning a master's degree in business at Loyola Marymount University. The program was scheduled to begin in January.

The Peace Corps and Loyola Marymount agreed to the program earlier this month, but they still lack approval from the city's Housing Authority, which has been asked to provide $60,000 in funding for the program.

"The first we heard about it was after the inauguration" ceremony marking the formal agreement between Loyola Marymount and the Peace Corps, said Marshall Kandell, a spokesman for the Housing Authority, which owns and manages the city's 17 public housing developments. "We weren't even invited to it."

Kandell questioned whether it would be fair to bring in Peace Corps volunteers at a time when there is a 14,000-name waiting list for public housing in Los Angeles. "The living issue could be a big hassle," he said.

But program organizers say the Housing Authority was notified of their plans last year.

Henry Fernandez, national director of the Peace Corps Fellows/USA Program in Washington, said his office contacted the Housing Authority in late 1992 and sent a letter in June.

The Fellows program allows returning Peace Corps volunteers to work in needy U.S. communities while earning master's degrees. It is administered through individual American universities.

However, officials at the Housing Authority said they never received a letter from Fernandez's office. He said the problem may be due to a lack of communication between the resident managers of Nickerson Gardens and the city agency.

"I'm embarrassed that it appears the people we have been dealing with at the residents management corporation were working independently of the Housing Authority," Fernandez said.

The Peace Corps Fellows program became interested in Nickerson Gardens after being approached last year by Nora King, then president of the Nickerson Gardens Residents Management Corp.

King learned about the fellows program through a letter distributed to housing projects by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She then contacted David Boje, a management professor at Loyola Marymount, who had worked with the residents management corporation and helped coordinate the agreement between the Peace Corps and Loyola Marymount.

King said the Housing Authority was notified about plans to have fellows come to Nickerson Gardens and that a representative attended several of the meetings about the program. But Joseph Gelletich, acting co-executive director of the housing agency, said no staff members attended any meetings.

One solution under consideration by Peace Corps officials and the Housing Authority would be to house fellows at Loyola Marymount. But that option has drawn criticism.

"That would defeat the purpose of the program," King said.

David Grant, a Peace Corps Fellow attending USC's School of Education who works with disabled children in El Segundo, said the fellows program should include housing volunteers in the community where they work.

"To me, if you're not living in the community it's just another scholarship program," Grant said.

It remains unclear how the housing and funding problems will be resolved.

Gelletich of the Housing Authority said his office would like to see the program go forward, and said HUD rules allow units to be set aside for fellows despite the long waiting list. But he said the Housing Authority does not have the $60,000 needed to pay stipends for the fellows.

If the Housing Authority is unable to fund the program, Boje said, money could be sought elsewhere or fellows could get part-time jobs.

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