One on One with Housing Authority CEO Montiel
As head of the City Housing Authority, Rudolph C. Montiel addresses concerns, issues and the future of Jordan Downs and its residents.
By Brian W. Carter
Sentinel Staff Writer
The Jordan Downs Redevelopment plan will be a major facelift and reconstruction job headed by the Housing Authority (CHA) of the city of Los Angeles. The 5-year and $5 billion housing plan started in 2008 under “Housing that Works.” Supported by local officials: Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilwoman Janice Hahn, project “Creating a Vibrant Village” aroused fears of displacement among Jordan Downs’ residents. Rudolf C. Montiel, President and CEO of the CHA recently gave the Sentinel responses to those concerns.
“Jordan Downs presented the only opportunity,” said Montiel,”…to build new housing, without displacing a single resident.” Montiel stressed that public housing without displacement was the priority of the project from the beginning.
There is still a lingering issue of trust when it comes to city government projects. In the past, many promises have been made relative to changes to local communities but have yet to be seen. Assemblyman, Isadore Hall and executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. are some of many local figures who have stressed the importance of the follow-through and fairness when it comes to communities in South Los Angeles.
Montiel wanted to convey that actions speak louder than words that would eventually prove the intentions of the CHA. “I’ve asked the community, starting with our residents who are obviously the most impacted,” said Montiel, “don’t trust me, don’t listen to my words, look at our deeds and actions, and then decide.”
He continued to explain how trust was another goal the CHA wished to establish with the Jordan Downs community. Montiel explained that it was important for the community to know of their intent to purchasing the land. He wanted to establish a rapport with residents because he is keenly aware of the years of mistrust between the community and city government.
Montiel went even further to explain how a special committee was formed to ensure that the interests of the Jordan Downs residents were being handled fairly. “Within a month after buying the land, we had formed a Jordan Downs community advisory committee,” he said.
He then continued, “A community advisory committee was formed which comprised of residents of Jordan Downs…leaders in the community…church leaders, business leaders, neighborhood council people, representatives of every elected office from the state assembly person to the county supervisor to the congressional office.”
Montiel said the purpose of this committee was to involve everyone in the redevelopment of Jordan Downs. He also commented on the Watts Labor Community Action Committee’s (WLCAC) choice to opt out of being apart of the redevelopment process due to possible future conflict. The WLCAC owns the southwest corner of Jordan Downs known as Mudtown Farms.
WLCAC president and CEO, Tim Watkins refused to allow purchase of Mudtown Farms because he wished to keep it as an area for people to grow their food. Montiel stated that the CHA and the WLCAC are working together in a joint effort to improve the community.
“We partner with WLCAC in many areas that are important to Jordan Downs,” said Montiel, “we partner with them on jobs and we partner with them on many initiatives…I think they fit in at many different points in the process.” He also added that Mudtown Farms would serve as an attractive addition to the renovated Jordan Downs and serve as an additional “green space” for the community.
Jordan Downs is set for construction in late 2011 into the following year. The first construction will begin on the entry road, from Century Blvd to Grape Street to where it connects at Tweedy. The development of new apartments, which Montiel says won’t require displacement, will begin in late 2012 or early 2013.
He also stated that there will be opportunities available as a result of the redevelopment of Jordan Downs and how Mayor Villaraigosa has started plan to generate opportunities for the area. “Residents will begin to be immediately impacted,” said Montiel. “One of our plans… is to ensure we have project labor agreements in place that truly give opportunities for the young men and women of Jordan Downs, to participate…in the construction of their new community.”
There are also organizations in conjunction with the CHA that are helping residents with their daily needs. “The Housing Authority is already actively engaged with our city partners,” said Montiel, “to start getting those families, those households, those individuals ready for jobs.”
Another concern was the rent change due to the nature of the reconstruction of the new development. Many residents fear that there will be a hike in rent but Montiel addressed that concern. “Public Housing means that we will replace every human; every household will have a unit to move into in the new community,” he said, “and their rents will be the same today as it is tomorrow.”
The bottom line is, the biggest hurdle facing Jordan Downs is trust. People are uneasy about being moved out to places like Lancaster and Palmdale, never to see their true homes again. Montiel urges the residents to continue to be a part of the process and watch it unfold. “I urge them, be vigilant, do not trust us,” said Montiel, “come to the meetings, ask the questions…stay on top of things.”
Montiel wanted the residents of Jordan Downs and the community of Watts to know this about their agenda, “Stay with us, don’t walk ahead of us, don’t walk behind us, walk with us so that together we can transform Jordan Downs …from housing of last resort to housing of choice.”