By Rebecca Trounson, Los Angeles Times
8:47 PM PST, December 14, 2012
Gary Squier, who became the first housing director for the city of Los Angeles in 1990 and faced a formidable housing challenge in the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake, died Dec. 4 at his Santa Monica home. He was 61.
The cause was lung cancer, although he was not a smoker, said his wife, Anita Landecker.
With a background in nonprofits, Squier was said to bring an advocate's zeal to his work when Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to lead the newly created Housing Preservation and Production Department. Since 1987, he had served as Bradley's housing coordinator, overseeing restructuring of the city's housing policy. He had also helped launch programs to address a severe shortage of units for low-income residents.
"With Gary, it was always the human dimension of housing that mattered," said Alice Callaghan, a longtime advocate for Los Angeles' poor. "He created lots and lots of housing and he knew that in every one of those units lived a family whose life was better and more hopeful because that unit was there."
In the late 1980s, Squier served on a mayoral committee whose recommendations led to creation of the housing department. When he was named the department's first general manager, a Times editorial called him "an inspired choice."
After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, Squier helped secure more than $300 million in federal funding to reconstruct 14,000 damaged housing units in Los Angeles. Nearly all were rebuilt within three years, but an audit later criticized some aspects of the effort, including the city's failure to ensure that carpenters were paid federally required union wages.
"In attempting to put together a massive recovery program, this union wage-monitoring question just slipped through the cracks and shouldn't have," Squier said in 1997 in The Times and noted that the issue was being remedied. He resigned the same year to become a private developer of affordable housing.
City Controller Wendy Greuel, who helped oversee the earthquake response as a top official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Squier "worked from morning to night to make sure we rebuilt that housing."
"He said, 'This is unlike anything that's ever happened,' " Greuel recalled this week. " 'How do we change city policy and even our own department rules to be nimble in how we address this problem?' He was an effective leader."
Gary William Squier was born Aug. 29, 1951 in Portland, Ore. He later joked that he all but grew up on construction sites; his mother June was an interior designer who refurbished Victorian houses and an electrician grandfather often worked on remodeling projects. His father George was in the grocery business.
After earning a bachelor's degree in geography and journalism in 1975 from the University of Oregon, Squier arrived in Los Angeles as a VISTA program volunteer. Assigned to assist the Catholic Worker group with housing preservation on downtown's skid row, he later headed several nonprofits focused on housing and community development, including the Los Angeles Community Design Center and the Community Corporation of Santa Monica.
In addition to Landecker, his wife of 23 years, Squier is survived by his children, Aaron, Hannah and Jake, and a sister, Marilyn Hagoes.
A memorial service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday at Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
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