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City's Housing Leadership in Upheaval

A deputy mayor is resigning and a commission chairman will take a lesser role as problems plague the Section 8 program.

March 25, 2004|Jocelyn Y. Stewart and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles' deputy mayor for housing and the chairman of the board of the city's Housing Authority both will step down, Mayor James K. Hahn announced Wednesday.

Deputy Mayor Sarah Dusseault, 34, who has spearheaded efforts to create more affordable units in the city, said she is leaving to spend more time with her family.

"This is a 24-hour-a-day job, and I have a 4-month-old at home and it's not working," said Dusseault, who resigned Wednesday morning.

In a statement, the mayor praised Dusseault for her work to keep homeless shelters open year-round and develop the city's $100-million Housing Trust Fund, which under Dusseault has produced 2,000 affordable units for working families and seniors.

"I'm very upset," said Bon Bon Hurd, chairman of the housing chapter of ACORN, an association of community organizations. "She was definitely an advocate in our fight and our issues."

The news of Dusseault's resignation came just hours after she had announced that Michael Nogueira, the chairman of the board of commissioners for the city's Housing Authority, also would step down, in part because of severe problems plaguing a federal program the Housing Authority administers. Nogueira is expected to remain on the seven-member board.

Officials in the mayor's office stressed that his departure was unrelated to Dusseault's.

Last month, Housing Authority officials suspended 1,500 housing vouchers held by participants in Section 8, a program that subsidizes the rents of low-income tenants

Citing a lack of funds, officials suspended the vouchers of participants who did not have rental agreements. An additional 3,600 families that receive Section 8 assistance may have their housing contracts canceled if a solution is not found, officials said.

The crisis has left housing officials and advocacy groups scrambling to help families. Nogueira was asked to step down because he could not devote the "significant time" needed to address the situation, Dusseault said.

Officials with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development believe the Housing Authority should make Section 8 "a priority," said Donna White a HUD spokesperson. Nogueira, who owns a party rental company and a limousine service, has served as chairman since the fall of 2003 and on the board since 1999, housing officials said. He could not be reached for comment.

A likely fill-in for the chairmanship is Elenore A. Williams, president and chief executive of Habitat for Humanity-Los Angeles, Dusseault said.

Each member of the board is appointed by the mayor for a four-year term. The board of commissioners reviews and approves expenditures, approves staff recommendations for contracts and hires the executive director of the Housing Authority, officials said.

Housing Authority officials blame the Section 8 troubles on a number of factors. The local agency has issued more vouchers than the federal government has allocated to the city. In the past, such overbooking ensured that no voucher would go unused.

However, no new vouchers have been allocated and Congress now prohibits local authorities from using certain funds to pay for over-leased vouchers.

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