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Cisneros, Riordan Tour ‘Ghost Towns’ : Earthquake: U.S. housing secretary highlights a federal strategy to help repair severely damaged apartment buildings.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan toured several San Fernando Valley earthquake “ghost towns” Thursday to highlight a new strategy to jump-start the repair of heavily damaged apartment neighborhoods.

Sidestepping rubble and ducking under a partly collapsed garage, the two leaders met the owners of two Granada Hills apartment complexes that might never be rebuilt, city officials said, without funds that the Clinton Administration hopes to shift from other earthquake programs to housing.

Riordan praised Cisneros for the federal government’s response to the quake. Cisneros, in turn, said federal officials believe that the Riordan Administration has proved itself capable of disbursing and guiding earthquake relief.

In response to an appeal by Riordan, President Clinton this week asked Congress to redistribute $225 million from highway and school retrofitting projects to housing agencies in Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

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Deflecting criticism that the money is being taken from other urgent priorities, Cisneros said the funding is needed to address a crisis that could leave the city with permanent blight and cause long-term damage to its economy.

The money would be used to provide no-interest loans to ghost-town apartment owners who do not qualify for Small Business Administration loans or cannot pay to repair millions of dollars in damage. No payments would come due on the 30-year loans for the first six years, Cisneros said.

Los Angeles housing officials have identified 13 ghost towns, either individual blocks or whole neighborhoods that have become virtually uninhabited because so many buildings suffered extensive damage in the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake.

Officials are concerned that these areas will attract crime and squatters and remain blighted for years if the building owners do not receive adequate assistance to rebuild.

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