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Editorial

A new, better Jordan Downs

The Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles has selected two developers to map out and execute a plan for a new community.

July 25, 2012
  • The Jordan Downs housing projects sit just beyond the fence of the high schools track and football field.
The Jordan Downs housing projects sit just beyond the fence of the high schools… (Los Angeles Times )

The redevelopment of the infamously grim Jordan Downs housing project in Watts moved one step closer to reality with the announcement last month that the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles had selected two developers to map out and execute a plan for a new community.

Not that anyone should pack their bags yet, either to move out of the barracks-like 700-unit structure or to move into the envisioned urban village of subsidized housing, market-rate apartments and retail stores that would replace it. The list of further steps that must be taken is long and challenging. Raising $1 billion to pay for the redevelopment is one of them.

But it's promising to see the housing authority pushing ahead with an ambitious plan to tear down the existing project, which in its darkest days was a miasma of crime, gang activity and misery. Already, Jordan Downs is not the same place it once was — crime is down, the array of available social services is varied and growing, there is a Facebook page.

Now, as the housing authority moves forward with the redevelopment plan, it will have to confront a couple of issues to avoid creating Jordan Downs the Sequel:

For one thing, it needs to find a balance between allowing the residents to be involved in the complex and allowing them to run it. In the past, inconsistency and misunderstanding have led to tension between residents and housing officials. The people who make Jordan Downs their home have always been a tightly knit group, and they should be consulted on what the new complex needs and, once it's built, how it is working. But there should be a clear delineation between the residents' roles and the housing authority's management.

A thornier issue is one that has bedeviled housing officials and social commentators for decades and is still being debated: Should there be time limits on how long someone can live in public housing like Jordan Downs? Ideally, public housing should be a way-station to a life with a steady income that pays for a home. But some residents have lived at Jordan Downs for decades. How to address that is a complex public policy issue with political and moral ramifications that go well beyond Los Angeles. It is obviously difficult to impose time limits on residents when the economy is in a tailspin and jobs are hard to come by and keep; it makes little sense to throw people out in the street if they don't have the wherewithal to go somewhere else.

Difficult as these issues are, we look forward to the city wrestling with them and unveiling a new and better housing development.

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