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Los Angeles' foreclosure rehab program homes in on South L.A.

Of 377 foreclosed homes bought so far by the city to renovate and sell, nearly 90% are in South Los Angeles.

August 19, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, Doug Guthrie, general manager of the city's Housing Department, center rear, and Mercedes Marquez, assistant secretary in the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, peer into a renovated house on 66th Street.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, Doug Guthrie, general manager… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa strode through the two-bedroom house on 66th Street on Thursday as though he were a prospective buyer, checking out the bamboo floors and getting the lowdown on the tankless water heater.

In this case, it is the city's Housing Department that is selling the 820-square-foot home in South Los Angeles, one of hundreds of foreclosed properties being purchased, fixed up and resold by the agency using $143 million in federal stimulus grants.

Standing in the frontyard amid newly planted grasses, Villaraigosa said the program will create much-needed construction jobs while cleaning up blighted streets. Yet with nearly half of the homes already purchased, some at City Hall have begun to worry that other needy neighborhoods are in danger of being passed over.

Of the 377 homes bought so far by the city, less than 9% are in the San Fernando Valley, according to a list of the properties supplied by the city's Housing Department. Those numbers trouble City Councilman Richard Alarcon, whose northeast Valley district has the largest number of single-family homes to fall into foreclosure in Los Angeles.

Although he supported the idea of devoting major resources to South Los Angeles, Alarcon said he was disappointed by the amount of attention paid to the Valley, which represents more than a third of the city's population.

"I know they said they want to focus on the Valley" in the program's next phase, Alarcon said. "But actions speak louder than words."

City housing officials said South Los Angeles received the greatest amount of attention because it has the largest number of overall foreclosures, a figure that includes multifamily properties such as duplexes, triplexes and small apartment buildings.

Appearing with officials from the Obama administration, Villaraigosa said federal funds should not be spread across the city equally "like peanut butter." "Focus on the areas that are hardest hit," he said.

Of the homes purchased so far, nearly 90% are in South Los Angeles. By comparison, five homes — two houses and a triplex — were bought in the district represented by Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents working-class El Sereno and Boyle Heights.

None were in the district represented by Councilman Ed Reyes, which takes in low-income sections of Westlake and Lincoln Heights, or in the Echo Park to Hollywood district represented by Council President Eric Garcetti.

The city's rehabilitation program is headed toward the halfway mark, with plans for rehabbing and selling as many as 1,100 homes before it ends. In addition to properties that will be renovated, the department plans to construct three apartment buildings, one of them in the Valley, with a combined 156 units.

Housing Department spokesman Rushmore Cervantes said his agency would soon put a greater emphasis on buying single-family homes in the Valley and pointed out that more than 12% of the single-family homes purchased so far were in Alarcon's district. Officials also plan to turn to the city's Eastside, buying the vacant Linda Vista hospital next to Hollenbeck Park for future housing.

The program has proved to be a success for Shirley Alford, who is in escrow to buy the house on 66th Street promoted Thursday by Villaraigosa. She had nearly given up on purchasing her own home when her daughter, Shirley Walker, found information on the housing program, http://www.restoreneighborhoodsla.org, on the city's website.

With a down payment of 1%, Alford will be able to move into the 1927 home within weeks, her daughter said. "Her moving in in September is like a dream come true," said Walker, grinning from ear to ear.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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