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L.A. Did Not Use Some Block Grant Funds

November 25, 2001

Re "Block Grants Went Unspent Under Riordan," Nov. 20:

I was responsible for the administration of Los Angeles' housing block grant funds from 1992 to 1997. The city has always had a difficult time spending its federal housing and community development subsidies in a timely manner. The problem was not caused by Richard Riordan's administration, but neither was it solved. The city frequently commits its federal grant funds to projects and programs that are technically complex, rely on uncertain third-party participation to succeed and have an inherently long completion cycle. Many of these projects can fail or stall indefinitely, yet it is difficult to redirect the funds to faster-moving initiatives.

The city should place a much greater emphasis on projects that provide direct assistance to low-and moderate-income individuals and families and quickly eliminate slum and blight conditions. Here are some simple ideas: 1) Dramatically expand funding for homeownership programs. The city should work to turn low-income renters into neighborhood stakeholders by providing interest-free, deferred repayment second mortgages not just for city-financed housing developments (the current policy) but across the board. 2) Increase funding for projects that directly abate slum and blight conditions. Providing funding for ongoing alley and vacant lot cleanup would have a huge impact. 3) Provide significantly more funding for single-family and two-to-four-unit housing rehabilitation programs. 4) Expand funding for public service programs such as counseling, youth services, job training and emergency assistance.

Matthew Callahan

Los Angeles

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