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Strategy to Boost Housing Outlined

Expansion of rental units and assistance to low-income, first-time home buyers are top concerns of advisory panel to city trust fund.

November 15, 2002|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Standing outside a newly renovated house in the Watts area Thursday, Mayor James K. Hahn accepted a report that may provide the first glimpse at how the city will spend and sustain a $100-million trust fund created to improve housing.

The report offers "a real strategy ... on how we can turn this $100 million into hundreds millions more, and, more importantly, into homes for people in Los Angeles," Hahn said to a gathering of housing advocates.

Created after a years-long campaign waged by local housing advocates, the housing trust fund is viewed as key weapon in the city's battle with its housing shortage. In the 2002-03 budget, the mayor and City Council approved $42 million for the fund, which, under the mayor's plan, will reach $100 million over the next few years.

In May, the mayor appointed an advisory committee to recommend policies that will govern the fund; ultimately the measures must be approved by the mayor and the City Council.

Former City Councilman Mike Feuer, who chaired the Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee, applauded the mayor's vision for supporting the fund -- and his tenacity for continuing to do so in a tough budget year. "The next step is distributing these funds in the most effective way possible.... Getting the money into the pipeline is critical," Feuer said.

The advisory committee report culminates a five-month effort. The committee says the fund's key priority should be the expansion and preservation of rental units affordable to households with combined incomes of about $32,700. That's about 60% of the area's median income, which for a family of four is $54,500.

According to estimates from the Southern California Assn. of Governments, the city needs 60,000 units by 2005 to meet its housing needs. A lack of building, combined with a booming population, has created a critical shortage that leaves many in the city paying more than half their income on rent.

In addition to the burden it places on the city's residents, the lack of housing has economic ramifications, Hahn said. Some businesses have avoided Los Angeles, or abandoned it, for cities where housing is more affordable and plentiful, he said.

The fund's secondary priority, the report said, should be to offer assistance to first-time home buyers with low-incomes.

Homeownership creates the kind of a pride that can transform a community, said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, chairwoman of the council's Housing and Community Development Committee. The committee will hold hearings on the recommendations offered Thursday.

Sometimes, she said, the difference between renting and owning is being able to raise the down payment, and the trust fund could help meet that goal.

The advisory committee also recommended that the fund be used to prevent homelessness by providing one-time grants to very-low-income tenants on the verge of eviction or relocation.

The advisory committee members ranged from housing advocates to developers to a tenant organizer.

Feuer said the diverse group was able to reach a consensus on nearly every point.

Jan Breidenbach, who headed Housing LA, the campaign that led to the creation of the trust fund, said the recommendations do not stray from the original intent of the fund.

"It's very close to what we proposed," said Breidenbach, who also was a member of the Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee. "This is going to be a model for the rest of the U.S."

The event Thursday was held at a house being bought by Jorge and Ana Rodriguez through the Enterprise Foundation, which purchases HUD-foreclosed homes and sells them to low-income, first-time buyers. A loan from the city's Housing Department also helped the family.

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