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County Public Housing Is 'Nothing Like' L.A. City's

March 22, 1997

The competition for public housing units has eased in L.A. County, in part because of new federal rules that require criminal background checks on applicants. The county is also evicting tenants who commit crimes. People who live in county housing told JAMES BLAIR that they're appreciative, but that background checks are just part of a larger anti-crime effort. They also say there's a night-and-day difference between L.A. county housing and the well-publicized disarray of L.A. city public housing, where enforcement of the federal rules has barely begun.

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AQUILLA FLETCHER

Carmelitos public housing, Long Beach; works as a medical office assistant

There are 713 units here, covering about 64 acres. I wouldn't say that it's exactly everything that I want it to be, but it is a lot better than what it was, say, 10 years ago. We have a community garden, educational facilities [among other amenities]. I don't think people have to be as much in fear of gang members or drug dealing as they would have been [then]. Part of it has to do with the background checking, part of it with the patroling and, of course, with the residents' not putting up with it.

I get a lot of negative feedback from people who don't know exactly what Carmelitos is, what it's about, where it was and what it's come to be. This project has changed. I don't even like to consider it a project. I would like to say it's a development. We offer a lot of incentives and educational programs. It's not just a place where it's low income and you're stuck. We do try to help the residents out. I'm proof of that. I'm making my steps forward, training to become an opthalmological technician.

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GLADYS PONCE

Vice president of the resident council at Harbor Hills public housing, Lomita

We have 300 units here. I feel that the criminal background checks are a very good idea. When I moved here about nine years ago they had to check my credit to see if I paid my bills on time. I guess they wanted to make sure whoever they put in there was going to be responsible enough to pay their rent. I thought that was a pretty good idea. I don't see why it should be any different to check somebody's criminal background.

We're really trying to do our best here to make our community safe. We're very fortunate. We have a good community. We're close knit here. We know each other and try to help each other out. I feel comfortable here. I'm very particular about my surroundings. I can walk [through] our parking lot at 2 a.m. and I'm not fearful.

They're really on top of things here with the Sheriff's Department and our property supervisor. We have the "one-strike" law [allowing eviction of tenants for a single felony conviction.] As soon as anything really bad comes up, you're out of here. It makes all of us feel a little safer because we don't have to worry about our kids playing in the yard because so-and-so is out there doing drugs.

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ELFREDYA McGOWAN

Harbor Hills Housing resident, elementary school office assistant

I think it's great. It will eliminate problems before they start as far as getting people in here with criminal activity. Once they get in it's kind of hard to get them out: You have to go through a process that tends to take a while.

It's pretty safe here. Our public housing is nothing like what you see in Los Angeles. I've never lived in L.A. City public housing but I worked with Head Start in Watts so I've been to Jordan Downs. Let me tell you, it's a whole different planet.

I don't think the public has an accurate idea of what public housing is and can be, because I didn't. Especially for somebody who's never seen public housing outside of Los Angeles. You see public housing in Los Angeles, they all look the same, with all the same negatives.

When I first came here, I noticed a little hole in the window which hadn't been repaired from the last tenant. I asked if that was a bullet hole and people looked at me as if I was crazy. I've never heard a shooting here. I've never seen anyone loitering, drinking, that kind of thing. We do have a couple of wannabe gang members, but I work with the residents council and we pretty much have a good handle on that.

For one thing, where we live is beautiful. I have a large back yard with 10 trees, four of them fruit trees. The grounds are immaculate; we are near affluent neighborhoods like Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes. They don't want their neighborhoods to look bad so we have an agreement with them that we are to keep our yards up. The county takes care of the front and residents have to sign an agreement that we will keep our back yards in order. People do it willingly.

Among many things, we have a computer lab, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H. My relatives and friends who come to visit cannot believe how nice it is here. If I have to be [in public housing] in this time in my life I'm glad of where I am.

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JULIA DAVIS

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