Despite the gloom and doom that is permeating the present economic environment throughout the country, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has embarked on a $5 billion housing project that will lay the foundation for affordable housing in the city of Los Angeles. According to the Mayor’s office, his 5-year plan will more than double housing units in Los Angeles and will build on a $700 million investment from Enterprise Community Partners, a national non-profit agency that provides loans, grants and other financial resources to build affordable housing for low-income Americans.
“The city’s economic success and vitality depend on our ability to plan for a future of sustainability and stability in our housing market,” Mayor Villaraigosa said. “This plan lays the building blocks of housing our middle class can afford and takes the first steps toward building ‘housing that works’ for all Angelenos.”
Since the plan seems to focus on the middle class and the nation’s economic tsunami is negatively affecting the middle class, there has to be room in the plan for the poor. In today’s market – even before the present financial problems in Wall Street surfaced – affordable housing was beyond the reach of many middle class families in California, in general, and in Los Angeles particularly. That’s part of the reason families flee to the suburbs where the quality of life, including housing, is more palatable and affordable, and long commutes are sometimes a necessary trade-off.
Los Angeles City Council-woman Jan Perry is a board member of the Air Quality Management District and the chair of the city’s Energy and Environment Committee. She was cautious in her assessment of the plan and said, “We are in a down real estate market; we have to make sure that the projects that are in the pipeline and have been funded need to be built and we have to see what the future holds. I think that the plan needs to be thoroughly vetted by the city council before we can take a position on it.”
As chairman of the Housing and Community Economic Development committee, Los Angeles City Councilman, Herb Wesson (D-10) sounded optimistic about the Mayor’s plan. He said, “I support any kind of growth where it relates to housing. We have a shortage and we have a variety of people who just can’t find a place where they can afford to stay, so I support that. I think the Mayor’s plan is an ambitious one that I hope will be able to come to light because if it did, it would make a big difference.” About the plan’s feasibility and its practicality, in today’s market, he added, “It’s a 5-year deal, and though the market is bad now, it won’t always be bad. In my view, this could be the perfect time to start planning and that’s basically what this is.”
Overseeing the Mayor’s robust plan is Deputy Mayor for Housing, Helmi Hisserick, who said, “There are 5 departments that are part of the Mayor’s plan and I work with the general manager of each department. It is a 5-year plan to invest city resources in housing and these are conservative estimates. The plan leverages outside resources to include philanthropy sources, federal and state governments and private investments.” Some of the concerns that are sure to surface are the wave of financial uncertainty that is presently gripping the country. These were addressed by Hisserick when she added, “It’s hard to predict at this time how it will affect it but what’s important is the city’s commitment will not go away and we have create solid partnerships. South Los Angeles is a big part of the Mayor’s plan; there are specific projects such as the redevelopment of Jordan Downs,” a housing project in South Los Angeles that has had its share of social and economic problems. “We are really focusing on the preservation efforts of South Los Angeles – preserving affordable housing where possible,” she concluded.
Robin Hughes, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Community Design Center, a non-profit entity that design houses for the city and the county of Los Angeles and she is one of the participants whom the Mayor has incorporated into his housing plan, and she said, “We are one of the developers out there that will help to realize this ambitious plan. The housing strategy will help the African American community in a number of ways; we often find that a lot of the city’s housing dollars go towards people of color to create affordable housing.” That coincided with the Mayor’s assertion of transforming LA’s public housing sites into vibrant, mixed-income communities.” Hughes added, “If you look at where the highest foreclosures are in the city, in addition to the San Fernando Valley, they are also seen in South L.A.”
The final part of the Mayor’s plan will be to protect homes and neighborhoods by addressing the foreclosure crisis through the Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative and educating Angelenos about their rights as landlords and tenants.
It is definitely an ambitious undertaking!