Project Tenants Take Their Gripes to City Hall1

Times Staff Writer

More than 100 chanting residents and placard-carrying children from the city's dilapidated housing projects protested at City Hall on Wednesday, demanding an end to slum-like conditions, lack of police protection and delays in long-promised modernization in the projects.

The protest, the first ever by tenants of the city's troubled Housing Authority, comes after months of growing tension between tenant leaders from about half of the 21 projects and the authority's executive director, Leila Gonzalez-Correa.

Tenant leaders say they are fed up with unkept promises made by Gonzalez-Correa, who took over the authority in 1986 after its longtime director, Homer Smith, was pressured to resign for widespread mismanagement of the projects.

Helen Sierra, a leader from the Dana Strand project in Wilmington, told the cheering crowd, "The city of Los Angeles is the biggest slumlord in town. We are tired of lies and tired of false promises and tired of Mrs. Correa."

One resident carried an effigy of Gonzalez-Correa labeled "Ouster!" and one tiny boy was decked out in a sandwich-board sign that read "We want cats, not rats!"

Recently, the activists have demanded that Mayor Tom Bradley seek Gonzalez-Correa's resignation, and they renewed that demand Wednesday.

However, Claudia Moore, chairwoman of the Housing Authority Residents Advisory Council that is seeking Gonzalez-Correa's ouster, said her group is also ready to try to work out its differences, with the help of a federal mediator who has offered to intervene.

The mediator, from the U.S. Department of Justice in San Francisco, has been involved in the controversy since last week, meeting first with Gonzalez-Correa's supporters and then with her critics. (The Department of Justice, under law, can act as mediator when controversies arise between public agencies and minority groups.)

About 60 of Gonzalez-Correa's backers attended last week's meeting, the first visible show of support by tenants who are happy with her efforts so far. They say the new director has not had sufficient time to turn the long-neglected projects around.

Moore said she hopes the mediator can quell the anger on both sides, noting that some tenants who support Gonzalez-Correa are now calling for Moore's ouster from the resident council.

"People have been saying this is a personal thing between me and Mrs. Correa, but all I want is a better place to live," Moore said. "For $95,000 a year--that's her salary--we want some results, and maybe a mediator can make that happen."

Gonzalez-Correa, who was warmly welcomed by the tenants when she arrived in Los Angeles 1 1/2 years ago, first ran into trouble with them last fall when her plan to upgrade three neglected projects in Watts--announced with fanfare last summer by Gonzalez-Correa and Bradley--got off to a rocky start.

The first phase was supposed to include the hiring of some residents to assist a contractor with simple renovation work, landscaping and painting of aging buildings at the Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts projects.

But today, nine months after the announcement, numerous delays have left many buildings at the three projects unpainted and landscaping barely begun.

At Nickerson, only a few buildings were painted before the contractor walked off the job after being confronted by angry, unemployed residents who learned that he planned to hire only union labor.

"We have had some problems that have really angered some residents, and I am truly sorry it has turned out that way," Gonzalez-Correa said.

However, she said, "Many things we promised are under way, and we want changes as much as they do."

She noted that installation of heavy security screens on windows at many crime-ridden projects is proceeding, and that the screens--which prevent access by burglars, but are not as unsightly as heavy security bars--are proving popular with residents.

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