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Affordable housing efforts criticized

The L.A. controller says city departments have not assessed how many units are needed or on hand. Officials dispute the report.

July 10, 2007|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Amid what Los Angeles leaders call a housing crisis, city departments have failed to figure out how many affordable units are needed or are even on hand, according to an audit by City Controller Laura Chick.

"The answers to these questions should be clear and apparent, but they are not," Chick wrote in a letter Monday to city elected officials.

Officials at the city Housing Department sharply disputed that finding.

As rents have spiraled upward over the last few years, the dearth of affordable housing has become an increasingly hot political issue. Last fall, the city asked voters to approve a $1-billion bond measure that would have raised taxes to build affordable housing -- defined as rental units restricted to families with low and moderate incomes.

The bond failed, but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said he might support another attempt as soon as next year.

Officials have also proposed a flurry of laws designed to protect tenants living in rent-stabilized units. And they have touted the city's $100-million affordable housing trust fund, which gives money to developers to build such units.

In this context, the controller said she decided to audit the Housing Department, which is charged with developing and preserving affordable housing in the city.

She said she found that developers had used the trust fund to help build 1,069 affordable units between 2004 and 2006. But it was hard to assess what those numbers meant, she added.

The Housing Department could not say how many affordable units had become unavailable during that period or how those efforts fit in with the needs of the city's poor residents, according to the audit.

"We're in a crisis," Chick said. "We just don't know how big."

Chick also complained that the Housing Department did not work closely enough with the city Housing Authority, which administers housing projects; the Community Redevelopment Agency; or the homeless services authority. The city's antiquated computer systems can't even communicate with one another, she added.

Chick's office said other audits of the department would be released later this week.

Yolanda Chavez, executive officer of the Housing Department, said that Chick's auditors don't seem to understand the complexities of developing and tracking affordable housing. She added that her department had taken the lead in working with the other agencies.

Housing experts said the audit findings were not surprising, given the number of agencies involved in creating housing in Los Angeles.

"There's a lot of battling egos and turf battles," said Peter Dreier, a professor of public policy at Occidental College.

City Councilman Ed Reyes, meanwhile, said another crucial issue is a not-in-my-backyard resistance of many in the city to affordable housing.

"That is where the political realities hit the fan. We have to quit tiptoeing around the obvious," he said.

"We can count what we've done. We can count what we need, but if it has no place to go, what good is that?"

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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