Plans for the revitalization of the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts have been thrown into disarray after Los Angeles officials learned Monday that the city will not be awarded a $30-million federal grant they had been counting on for the development.
For years, officials have been touting their plan to spend upward of $700 million to transform the derelict and often dangerous housing project into a mixed-income community of up to 1,800 stylish new apartments, along with chain stores and new streetscapes.
The idea is to attract higher-income people to move into the areas and live among some of the city’s poorest, revitalizing a long-neglected area. Already, city officials have purchased land for development, won funds to extend Century Boulevard and launched a series of social programs at the housing project to help residents improve their lives.
But plans relied on a $30-million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant, which would have been used to leverage other funds. And Los Angeles was eliminated from the competition for that money Monday, in favor of other cities such as Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
“We’re obviously disappointed and quite surprised to get this news,” said Doug Guthrie, the head of the city’s Housing Authority. He said that officials remain committed to finding a way to carry forward with the project, but how exactly the funding will now work is not entirely clear.
“We are going to have to sit down with our development team and figure out where we go from here," he said, adding that officials could identify new sources of funding or reapply for federal money next year. "We've got a lot of people behind this ... we're not going to give up easliy. We're going to figure out what we do next."
Some in the Jordan Downs community took the news hard when it was announced Monday at the Watts Gang Task Force meeting.
“You could hear a pin drop,” said Mike Cummings, who grew up in Watts and works at Jordan Downs helping run Project Fatherhood, one of the many social service programs that have been introduced in the project in recent years. “It’s a huge disappointment and you could feel it in that room. Everyone has been hoping and planning for this, so now we don’t know what to think. If any community needed that grant, Watts really needed and deserved it. With the violence and the lack of jobs here, the development is really, really important.”
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), who represented the area on the Los Angeles City Council before being elected to Congress, said she wants "a full explanation from the administration on why this community has been left out yet again."
Earlier this year, South Los Angeles, including Watts, was left out of the boundaries of a new "Promise Zone" in Los Angeles designed to marshal federal resources for poverty.
"I'm very angry," Hahn said. "It's hard to believe that Watts would have been passed over again. ... It's such a kick in the stomach. I can't imagine another community in this country that is more deserving of a little bit of help from the federal government."