Finally, Someplace to Call Home : Official Uses Savvy to Pay for Housing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than most other housing officials in Orange County, Bob Pusavat is credited by affordable housing advocates with making innovative use of scarce resources to attack the shortage of housing for low-income families.

And he's done it without creating community ill will.

Pusavat, the county's manager of housing and community development and redevelopment, has aggressively sought state and federal funds to build low-income housing. To stretch the money farther, he practices what he calls land banking: The county, under his direction, buys land and holds it several years while inflation causes its value to soar.

He then arranges to have the land sold to a developer at a bargain price in exchange for a promise that the new housing will be rented long term at rates within reach of low-income households.

Land the county has acquired for development of affordable housing through Pusavat's efforts include an abandoned school site in South Laguna, a wrecking yard in Cypress and an Edison right-of-way in Midway City.

In all, Pusavat figures that his agency in the last five years has built 2,000 new homes for low-income families, the handicapped and senior citizens.

But federal and state funding of local housing programs has plummeted over the last five years. Orange County's share, for example, shrunk from $10 million to $4.6 million. That curtailed the county's ability to buy land for low-income projects.

To salvage money-starved programs, the county has turned to redevelopment as a funding source. Last year it designated 14 areas for redevelopment where it now can capture any increase in property tax revenue.

Borrowing against anticipated tax increment revenue, the county recently bolstered Pusavat's department by about $10 million. Of that, Pusavat said about $8 million will be used for streets, gutters and other public works that residents of the redevelopment areas want most. The rest will go toward rehabilitating and building low-income housing.

Once the public works are complete, Pusavat said, housing will get more of the redevelopment money. He predicts that redevelopment will generate $3 billion over the next 45 years.

"The housing problem is very critical and redevelopment is the golden key to help solve (it)," Pusavat said. " . . . Redevelopment is the future for providing housing for the low-income, handicapped and the homeless. We can no longer depend on the federal government to try to bail us out."

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