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A Visit To La-LAHSA Land

by Vachelle McFarland Tuesday, May. 06, 2003 at 6:17 PM Los Angeles, California

A local city government meeting turns ugly.

A Visit To La LAHSA Land

By Vachelle McFarland

The Community Redevelopment Agency’s City Center/Central Industrial Redevelopment Plan and the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition’s (DWAC) Share the Wealth Platform for Fair Redevelopment dominated a meeting of the downtown Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s Advisory Board which was unfortunately marred by infighting and dissension among the ranks.

As sunny Southern California days go, this was one of them. But once the board meeting was called to order, the atmosphere turned increasingly dark and stormy. This was punctuated by the degree of contentiousness that permeated the ambience of the room.

Along with issues of great import there was a lot of squabbling over items such as points of order, time constriction disagreements and other petty maneuverings. The extremism on both sides made it difficult to reach a middle ground and consequent resolution of those relatively small matters.

Some call this democracy in action and a privilege of free speech. But common sense should be a prevailing and overriding instinct when employing this constitutional right. Diplomacy and tact should never be thrown to the wind.

This push and pull battle for domination seemed more symptomatic of playground politics—a kind of phallic sword fighting conducted by preening male cockatoos who seek to dictate policy and penetrate any open loopholes in order to ramrod certain members into submission. In the end, they only succeeded in flashing their shortcomings and boring all present. (I wonder if any ladies were thinking, “Not tonight, honey. I have a headache.)

To be fair, this criticism applies to only a select few in attendance. But when the process of attention to critical issues that affects all downtown residents gets waylaid due to perceived slights both real and imagined then it’s time for cooler heads to prevail.

In between all the nonsense some business was gamely conducted.

Kaveh Samsamy, a Community Affairs Specialist from the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) spoke to the agency’s Homeless Reduction Goals/Objectives/Expenditures.

He stated that their 30-year redevelopment plan authorizes and enables the Agency to provide assistance to address social needs through various mechanisms including:

1. Providing direct funding assistance

2. Providing assistance to non-profit organizations which provide social services to the community

3. Developing housing for persons and families of extremely low-, very low-, and low-income runaways, and the elderly, including developing shelters and shelter beds.

4. Providing assistance in the rehabilitation and construction of new public and private facilities

5. Negotiating with developers to provide assistance to community service organizations.

This plan brought a flurry of questions from board members and the community.

Bob Erlenbusch asked about the range of vocational skills that would benefit future workers in the development areas and was told that brick and mortar construction would be the main area of employment; and the selection two of day laborer job center providers would be based on community input.

Samsamy also said that the Abram Friedman Vocational School at Hill Street and 18th Street would be utilized to increase job-training opportunities for City Center residents.

Advisory board homeless representative Tut Hayes disagreed with the need of a downtown Homeless Court (also known as the Community Court pilot program) as a drain on public resources and another covert encroachment by law enforcement into the homeless community.

The CRA’s redevelopment plan stated that the community courthouse “would be a modified courtroom” where “one judge would be handling all [downtown] misdemeanor crimes” and where “offenders would be immediately held and processed.” The stated goal “is to improve the community’s quality of life through effective and creative sentencing…”

Another homeless representative, Theodore Dues, questioned how the displacement of low-income tenants through the destruction of housing properties would be handled.

According to the CRA’s response to the lawsuit filed by a coalition of homeless advocates, including the ACLU, “Section 33411.1 of the CRL provides that no persons of low- or moderate-income shall be displaced unless and until there is a suitable housing unit available and ready for occupancy by such displaced person at rents comparable to those at the time of their displacement.” Samsamy added that in the past, the CRA destroyed 7,000 low-income housing units but replaced them with 21,000 low-income housing units that was 3 times more than the 15 – 20 percent required by California law.

Andrew Johnson of the Los Angeles Community Action Network asked if the CRA relocates a resident to an area outside a project area would the agency subsidize the resident’s (probable) increased living needs due to higher rent, transportation costs, etc.?

Samsamy responded no; although the CRA must provide 42 months of relocation assistance (but only if an occupant was using a residential hotel unit as his/her primary residence) the agency would only subsidize 30 percent of the rent. Other costs would be the sole responsibility of the displaced resident.

Afterward, Becky Dennison, Executive Director of DWAC, Bilal Ali of L.A.CAN and Gilda Haas, Executive Director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was afforded a truncated presentation of the Share The Wealth campaign. The platform was created in response to many problems in the City Center Redevelopment Plan and planning process.

Two main problems related to homelessness and homeless people were outlined:


Lack of Opportunity for Public Participation

They contend that the CRA’s plan was developed and approved in an 8-month timeframe and that the usual timeframe was approximately 2 years.

Lack of Representation of Low-Income and Homeless Project Area Residents

They stated that the project is home to approximately 7,000 homeless people and thousands more very low income individuals and families living in apartments and hotels but only one low-income resident on the 14-member advisory body of the Project Area Committee (PAC) and homeless persons were excluded from the PAC elections.

Affordable Housing

Loss of Housing Affordable to Current Area Residents

Their platform says that the Housing section of the CRA’s work plan calls for 6,900 new housing units and 5,240 rehabilitated or converted housing units, with 25 percent of each to be affordable. The combination of these two work items, they said, may actually result in a loss of up to 2,205 affordable units in this area.

Out of Compliance with the City’s Housing Element

Lastly, it was declared that the proposed percentage of affordable housing does not reflect the needs of the City or the Project Area.

The presentation sparked much discussion among the attendees but was generally greeted with positive enthusiasm. The only real dissension came from board member Tyrone Roy who was incensed that this issue seemed to displace other matters of prior importance. A motion to consider the Share the Wealth platform for presentation to the Executive Board was voted on and passed by a simple majority of 12 yeas, 2 nays, and 7 abstentions.

Ms. Dennison of DWAC said, “It’s good to see a large government agency such as LAHSA acknowledge the need for real action regarding the concerns of the poor and homeless downtown and I hope they continue to take a lead in these all-important issues.”


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