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County to lose up to 2,500 rent vouchers

The Housing Authority failed to hand out about 17% of its federal Section 8 subsidies last year, leading U.S. officials to cut its future allotment.

March 14, 2007|Jessica Garrison and Ted Rohrlich | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles County housing officials failed to hand out 3,500 housing subsidy vouchers even though poor families were sitting on a waiting list that was years long.

"It makes me sad.... There are people who really need it," Carolyn Davis said Tuesday. Davis, 40, said she has been homeless and sleeping on her sister's floor while waiting for a subsidy.

"I am bipolar times five," she said to explain why she can't work and needs a public subsidy to afford a place to live.

As Davis spoke outside the Los Angeles County Housing Authority headquarters in Santa Fe Springs, the department's top manager was downtown, explaining to the Board of Supervisors that his agency's failure could have lasting implications for the county's poor.

Because federal legislation pegs future subsidies to 2006 performance for all housing authorities, and because the L.A. County authority did not spend its full allotment, the federal government plans to provide 1,500 to 2,500 fewer of the subsidies, called Section 8 vouchers -- meaning that up to 2,500 fewer families would get the aid.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rated the L.A. County agency as troubled last fall because it had distributed only about 17,000 of its 20,500 authorized subsidies. HUD, which funds most of the subsidies, also criticized the authority for failing to inspect rentals paid for with the subsidies and failing to make sure that its tenants still qualified for them.

Asked if he felt bad about the situation, the agency's executive director, Carlos Jackson, said yes. "We feel very strongly about what we do. It's a difficult time for us because we did not deliver what we wanted to deliver," he said.

Jackson blamed the problems on a poor management structure that created a bottleneck, with employees unable to process requests for subsidies efficiently. "We choked ourselves," he said.

He said the agency at its worst was distributing 83% of its vouchers and is now at 85%, with a target of 95% by July.

He said he was on the way to fixing the other problems too.

County supervisors said they wanted periodic updates.

"Obviously, we're all troubled by this troubled rating," Supervisor Don Knabe said.

Compton resident Larry Spires, who said he has been waiting years for a voucher, was troubled too. Spires, 31, who said he has not been able to work since he was hit by a car, was surprised to learn that the county's poor stand to lose thousands of subsidies because its bureaucrats failed to make full use of them.

"They shouldn't penalize us," he said.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

ted.rohrlich@latimes.com

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