How the City of Los Angeles should spend over $120 million in federal grants on affordable housing, street lights, parks, business assistance or other community investments was the focus of a public meeting last week at the Lincoln Heights Senior Center.
Residents were asked to weigh-in on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s draft 2017-2018 Action Plan updating how the city will spend approximately $123.5 million from four U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) entitlement grants: Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME), Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) and the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) grant.
According to a Jan. 29 letter from the mayor to the city council, the goal is to use the funds to lift low- to moderate-income communities by taking a “comprehensive, integrated approach to planning and implementing the City’s housing, community development, and economic development needs and priorities.”
The plan’s Executive Summary notes that underemployment and housing affordability are “persistent challenges” for the city, stating that, “Cost-burdened residents struggle to meet basic obligations like paying for housing, transportation, education and health care …”
In the past, funds have been used to pay for shelters for victims of domestic violence, affordable housing, and programs to address homelessness and provide assistance to small businesses.
Sharon Lowe, special projects deputy for Councilman Gil Cedillo, pointed out last week that grant funding has paid for much-needed repairs at parks, recreation centers and to streets throughout Council District 1 – represented by Cedillo.
HUD funds are currently being used to pay for the multi-million dollar renovation of the pool right there at Lincoln Park, Lowe informed the dozens of people at the meeting. The pool has been closed for years but is scheduled to reopen sometime this year.
“And that’s just funding used in Lincoln Heights,” she explained, adding that her boss believes funds should be used to improve residents’ quality of life.
“That means improving parks, funding pedestrian safety improvements, and public safety,” Lowe said.
There are restrictions, however, on how grant monies can be used. While HOME funds must be used to pay for affordable housing, ESG funds are used to address homelessness, transitional housing and emergency housing, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Housing Service Authority. HOPWA provides grant-specific funds dedicated to people living with HIV/AIDS.
CDBG funds on the other hand are the most flexible, said Ruth Rodrigues, management analyst for the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department.
She said those funds can be used for park improvements, economic development opportunities, public services, community facilities, infrastructure and other projects.
Back in 2012, when the city approved its 2013-2018 Transit-Oriented Consolidated Plan, there was high interest in transportation-related projects. The city is now also looking for guidance on the 2018-2022 consolidated plan, which will be used to identify the needs the city will prioritize for future investment.
“Five years ago it was transit-oriented [programs], this time it may be homelessness,” Rodrigues said.
“You may think elected officials know what you want, but they don’t unless you tell them,” she pointed out.
Garcetti’s proposed plan calls for allocating nearly 50 percent or $60.5 million to build affordable housing. Of the remainder, about $16.5 million or 13 percent has been allocated for administrative costs and 20 percent, or $24.8 million, for neighborhood improvements such as upgrades to facilities and parks and for code enforcement and ADA (American Disabilities Act) improvements.
Economic development, which includes micro loans to small businesses, will take up 7 percent or $8 million, and $13 million or 11 percent has been allocated to fund public services that could include domestic violence shelters and assistance, family service centers and free services such as the seasonal no-cost tax preparation program for low-income earners.
Rodrigues pointed out that HUD caps the amount of funds that can be used for public services to no more than 15 percent of the total entitlement amount, prompting Nancy Salazar, who works at a domestic abuse shelter in the first district, to ask why the proposed allocation for public services is below the maximum amount allowed.
“This is the process to get it raised,” responded Laura Gugliamo, executive officer for the Los Angeles Housing Community Investment Department. The city needs to hear that’s what the community wants, Gugliamo said.
The desire to increase funding for public services was echoed by many of those at the meeting, including several parents and young adults who said they benefit from services provided by Barrio Action Youth and Family Center in El Sereno. They said they want to make sure the center continues to receive funding.
Hector Ochoa with the nonprofit Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living, told city officials that ADA –Americans with Disabilities Act – compliance should be considered before anything else.
“When it comes to housing, all units should be made assessable from the beginning,” he said. “Many people grow into their disability with age.”
“We’ve come to the realization that as a city we have not done everything we can to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to all services and we’re trying to rectify that,” responded Gugliamo.
William Rodriguez Morrison is a candidate for the 34th Congressional seat, which includes Lincoln Heights, Highland Park, and other east and northeast communities. He said parking is a major concern and if the city decides to build more affordable housing, it can’t do it by taking land now used for parking.
Funding for city improvements such as those at parks or resource centers are a great investment, but public safety must be the priority, Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council member Armida Marrufo told EGP.
“It won’t matter if our parks are new or our sidewalks are paved if people don’t feel safe walking on the streets.”
Residents have until Feb.13 to complete the community development and needs survey (available here ) before it goes to mayor and council for review and approval on Feb. 15.