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‘Ghost Towns’ Get Infusion of Loans : Recovery: City officials say financing has gone out to 99% of the owners of buildings in areas with high concentrations of quake damage.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Using a massive infusion of federal money and innovative loan programs, the owners of 99% of the vacant, quake-damaged buildings that constituted Los Angeles’ decaying “ghost towns” have received financing to make repairs, city officials announced Tuesday.

The ghost towns--pockets of destruction that became overrun with vermin, criminals and homeless after the Northridge earthquake--were billed as the toughest challenge for the city’s recovery program.

But after a nearly two-year struggle by housing and public works officials and with more than $300 million in public and private funding, authorities proclaimed a significant milestone in the battle to revive the areas.

City officials said repairs have either been completed or are in progress in 80% of the hardest-hit properties.

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“They did a super job,” said Councilman Hal Bernson, who heads the city’s Ad Hoc Committee on Earthquake Recovery and who issued a commendation Tuesday for the city’s “Ghost Town Task Force.” “We are at the very end of the ghost town program.”

Last year, the city identified 17 ghost towns with 1,030 damaged apartment buildings, condominiums and homes throughout the city, including 29 buildings that were eventually demolished and 301 that were vacant.

But by Oct. 31, city officials said they had helped secure government loans or private financing for 297 vacant buildings, or 99%. The remaining 700 buildings in the affected areas had minor damage, required minimum financing and remained occupied, according to a city report.

Of the vacant buildings, repairs have been completed on 155 of the structures (51%) and work is in progress on 88 (29%), according to the report.

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City housing officials credit strong support from federal, state and local officials with providing financing for the repairs.

In fact, soon after the city identified the ghost towns as serious problems, the Small Business Administration adopted a policy that gave top priority to loan requests from property owners in the areas.

In August, President Clinton announced that the federal government was going to free up $200 million for repair loans “to solve this ghost town problem.”

“The support was in place,” said Robert Moncrief, chairman of the task force, a 15-member coalition of department managers and supervisors. “We had senators, Congress members and city leaders all touring the ghost towns and giving us support.”

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But the financing and the repairs have come slowly to low-income neighborhoods.

An example, according to housing officials, is a complex in North Hills near Orion Avenue and Parthenia Street, where boarded-up apartments are ringed by barbed wire.

The surrounding neighborhood is home to many families crammed into one and two-bedroom apartments.

Rachel Tucker, 35, said she is not surprised that there has been little progress in fixing earthquake damage in her neighborhood.

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“It’s because we’re minorities . . . that’s the bottom line,” said Tucker, who is black.

In contrast, city officials say repairs have been made quickly in higher-income neighborhoods, such as Willis Street in Sherman Oaks.

But not everyone is happy with the progress.

“This is not better,” said Thel Levine, standing outside her townhouse. Her building had been green-tagged after the quake, and only now had word come that it needed to be retrofitted, forcing her to move. “This is not over; for us, the earthquake is not over.”

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Times correspondent Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this story.


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