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CRA Credited for Role in L.A. Housing Development

Redevelopment: UCLA study praises agency for making affordable homes available, but says it hampered a rigorous analysis of its history.

September 02, 1998|JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency has made significant changes to the city over the past three decades, especially in the area of affordable housing, according to a UCLA study commissioned by the agency to mark its 50th anniversary.

But the study by the Advanced Policy Institute at UCLA also faults the controversial agency for lack of clarity in defining how it measures success and for not reporting data adequately.

"We could conclude that progress is being made in every project area," wrote institute Director J. Eugene Grisby III, who prepared the study with student Jeffrey J. Caltabiano. However, Grisby said, the study was hampered by the agency's tendency to state goals in vague terms that discourage rigorous analysis.

The $50,000 study, called "An Assessment of Fifty Years of Redevelopment in Los Angeles," reports on changes in 17 of the agency's 25 project areas.

Accompanied by photos, and released by the agency with a glossy press kit, the report cites progress in the realm of neighborhood revitalization--most notably in the agency's creation of 13,996 housing units throughout the city. Of these, 8,502 are classified as "affordable."

The agency was launched in 1948 to conquer urban blight. It has the power to buy and sell property, issue bonds and condemn land for redevelopment projects.

The agency has drawn criticism in part because it is funded by a portion of local property tax revenues, money that other government entities have argued would be better spent elsewhere.

By law, that portion is calculated according to the amount of tax revenues received in redevelopment areas that are attributed to increases in assessed valuations, after adjusting for a 2% inflation rate.

Through this mechanism, redevelopment agencies now lay claim to about 8% of the state's total property tax base, said Marianne O'Malley, principal fiscal and policy analyst for the state legislative analyst, who has studied the impact of the state's redevelopment laws.

The Los Angeles agency--which has projects in a variety of neighborhoods including Bunker Hill, Hollywood and North Hollywood--has absorbed about $1.4 billion in property taxes over its lifetime, said John Molloy, agency administrator. Countywide, 9.2% of property taxes yearly are set aside for redevelopment, O'Malley said.

The picture that emerges in the UCLA study is of an agency much changed and chastened since its earlier days, when it was criticized for large-scale destruction of homes.

Condemnations have slowed to a near halt; only 14% of the properties acquired since 1967 have been condemned, the report said.

Meanwhile, construction in housing citywide has more than made up for the agency's notorious razing of about 7,000 homes in the Bunker Hill area in the 1960s, the report said. In some areas, nearly all the net increase in housing in recent years was the result of agency projects.

However, the report found that housing growth in redevelopment areas outpaced such growth countywide in only half the redevelopment areas.

It was partly in response to Los Angeles' "abysmal record" of destroying homes that state redevelopment laws were changed in 1977 to require set-asides for affordable housing, said Peter Detwiler, staff consultant to the Local Government Committee of the state Senate.

"Today, L.A. is considered one of the better agencies in expanding the base of affordable housing," Detwiler said. "They deserve credit, but we should never forget that history."

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