Thirty-one thousand very poor parents and their children live in 21 public housing projects in Los Angeles. Some of the apartments are pretty shabby, and some of the neighborhoods are pretty tough. The tenants often have to put up with gangs, dope dealers and murderers. They must also put up with Leila Gonzalez-Correa, the stubborn executive director of the city’s Housing Authority.
She took the reins of the tumultuous agency after her predecessor, Homer Smith, had been criticized repeatedly for poor management and for failing to follow the competitive-bidding process in letting contracts. The last year of his contract was bought out. Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council tightened bidding requirements. Gonzalez-Correa, a former federal housing lawyer, was brought in to clean up the mess in 1986.
Despite high hopes for a fresh start for the city’s neglected public housing, things haven’t gotten much better, as Times staff writer Glenn F. Bunting has reported. Gonzalez-Correa has failed to follow federal contracting regulations. She has been accused of making some of the same mistakes committed by her embattled predecessor, yet she says that she didn’t know that a competitive process was required for bids over $10,000 despite advice from the city attorney’s office that it was.
Where was the Los Angeles Housing Authority Board of Commissioners while contracts and consulting fees were being awarded without competition to acquaintances of Bradley and the housing director? The board oversees the agency, but members say that they didn’t know what the director was up to, and that she refused to keep them informed. After the agency’s past troubles, the housing commissioners should have pressed harder to determine exactly what was going on.
The housing board, however, has had its own share of problems. The former chairman, Alvin Greene, was forced to resign because he was too busy to make the meetings for six months. The mayor recently appointed a new chairman, Carl D. Covitz, a former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Reagan Administration. He is expected to bring strong new leadership and housing expertise to the commission. But the board meets only weekly to oversee a mammoth public housing agency with its budget of $135 million and staff of 750 employees. A full-time housing analyst should be hired to keep a closer and more expert watch, as suggested by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores.
As Leila Gonzalez-Correa tearfully defends herself, new allegations surface. She has been accused of using the housing authority’s special police to harass a former manager and a tenant who were critical of her. As the controversy continues, the housing director is unable to focus on making improvements at the worst housing projects, and thousands of poor families, who can afford to live nowhere else, suffer.