Housing Official Faces Ire of Tenant Groups
A year after taking over Los Angeles’ troubled Housing Authority, the honeymoon is over for Leila Gonzalez-Correa.
Tenant leaders from more than half of the city’s 21 public housing projects, who last year hailed Gonzalez-Correa’s appointment as a sign of hope for the agency, Tuesday accused her of not following through on promises to improve conditions for the 40,000 low-income people who live in city-run housing.
“You give us hope, but then when these promises don’t materialize, we don’t have anything,” said Claudia Moore, chairwoman of the Housing Authority Resident Advisory Committee, in a meeting with Gonzalez-Correa. “Our people in our community need more than promises.”
Gonzalez-Correa called the meeting in response to a letter to Mayor Tom Bradley written by the residents organization, which includes representatives from each housing project. The letter described her first year at the agency as a “disappointment.” Signed by 12 of the 21 representatives, it called on Bradley to push Gonzalez-Correa to act on a series of tenant requests.
The residents called for a greater say in decisions by the agency, improved security and maintenance at the projects and a commitment by the agency to train and hire project residents to perform repairs and other tasks. The residents said Gonzalez-Correa had agreed to all of the requests last year.
In the meeting, Gonzalez-Correa asked for patience, saying that she has been struggling to inject new life into an agency that has been dominated by “old attitudes,” poor management and a severe shortage of money. She read an eight-page letter she delivered Tuesday to Bradley outlining her accomplishments since taking over the $95,000-a-year job. She cited a pending reorganization that, among other things, will result in a new department dealing exclusively with resident concerns.
“Unfortunately, many of our accomplishments are not readily visible to our residents,” the letter said. “The organizational and technical aspects of the Housing Authority had to be effectively in place before the residents begin to see any real differences in the quality of their lives.”
A spokeswoman for Bradley said the mayor is satisfied with Gonzalez-Correa’s performance, although he did ask her to meet with the residents to address the problems in their letter.
At the meeting, Gonzalez-Correa told the residents that she understands their “sense of frustration,” but she denied an accusation by one woman that she has not been doing her job.
“We came here and had to start by changing the whole face of the Housing Authority, and it is not easy,” she said. “We are a 50-year-old organization, and we have 50-year-old attitudes. . . . We cannot move as quickly as we would like.”
But several residents, not satisfied with Gonzalez-Correa’s response, accused her of being insensitive to the plight of project residents. They criticized her for rarely attending meetings of the residents committee, and accused her of attempting to split the committee by pitting residents of one project against another.
“You just don’t know what it is like to live in these places,” said Nora King, a representative from Nickerson Gardens in Watts. “We live in hell day in and day out.”
Gonzalez-Correa denied that she has attempted to divide the committee and she said that agency business often prevents her from attending the committee’s monthly meetings. Gonzalez-Correa has sent a representative to each meeting, and she has attended more than 20 other tenant meetings at various housing projects, agency officials said.
The three-hour meeting on Tuesday turned several times into a debate between representatives from Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs in Watts on one side versus representatives from several other projects who did not sign the letter to Bradley.
Don Ballentine, a resident of Ramona Gardens, for example, said he had been fighting for three years before Gonzalez-Correa arrived to get approval to open a center for several service organizations at the Northeast Los Angeles project. He said Gonzalez-Correa was the first to listen.
“The response we have had has been exemplary,” he said.
Ballentine was joined by representatives from Normont Terrace in Harbor City in calling on the committee members to cooperate with Gonzalez-Correa rather than criticize her.
For her part, Gonzalez-Correa acknowledged that she may have created false hopes among some residents by talking too optimistically about changes she would like to see. Housing Authority staff members said Gonzalez-Correa has a “pep-rally” management style that can often backfire when deadlines are not met.
“Sometimes I may have committed the sin of being too optimistic,” Gonzalez-Correa told the committee members. “We cannot perform miracles.”