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Mayor says he may push another housing bond

March 06, 2007|Duke Helfand and Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writers

Four months after Los Angeles voters narrowly rejected a plan to borrow $1 billion for the construction of affordable housing, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared Monday that he intends to try again as early as next February.

Villaraigosa said he would peg the campaign to a presidential primary or general election because those tend to generate the highest turnout of voters sympathetic to the affordable housing issue. California lawmakers are expected to move the primary from June to February next year.

"I'm prepared to put it back on the ballot, to use my capital," Villaraigosa said at a news conference at a housing complex for once-homeless people in Echo Park, where he also announced new city investments in affordable housing.

"We've got to have a permanent funding source, and that means the entire city has to come together," he said.

More than 62% of city voters cast ballots for the housing bond last November, shy of the required two-thirds threshold to raise property taxes. The bond would have paid back investors with money from a property tax increase of about $14 per $100,000 of a home's assessed value.

The city has struggled for years to pay for more affordable housing, which is usually targeted for households whose salary falls at or below the median income for an area. Requiring developers to set aside a percentage of their buildings for such uses has proved to be politically unpopular, and the city has had trouble putting enough money into its affordable housing trust fund to help offset the cost for developers.

Last year's proposal to raise money by selling bonds stirred controversy at City Hall. The City Council put it on the ballot over the private protests of Villaraigosa, who did not believe that it would pass and did not want to compete with $37 billion worth of state infrastructure bonds. Some council members believe that the mayor could have campaigned harder for it.

Since taking office, Villaraigosa has directed $100 million into the city's housing trust account, fully funding it for the first time. Combined with other federal money, the housing trust account has raised $200 million to house families of limited means and the homeless, officials said.

Villaraigosa did not provide a dollar amount for the housing bond he planned to propose, but he predicted that a measure would pass if the timing was right.

"I've got to believe that smart people can provide a funding mechanism that's fair," he said.

Lisa Payne, policy director of the Southern California Assn. of Non-Profit Housing, said her group probably would support it.

Joel Fox, an opponent of last year's ballot measure, said he probably would oppose a bond if it were to include a tax increase.

"I think we made a logical argument that they were trying to seek to lower the cost of housing" for some people "and raising the cost of housing for others" by increasing property taxes, he said.

The mayor announced plans Monday to commit $137 million to developers to build 1,222 affordable units and an additional 274 units for homeless people. The funds would provide a portion of the total cost of the 26 projects, with developers expected to learn by June whether they would qualify for more federal and state funding.

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