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California

L.A. County supervisors vote against selling 241 public housing units

Low-income tenants got a reprieve Tuesday when Los Angeles County supervisors voted to hold on to 241 units of public housing at sites dispersed around South L.A. that housing officials had planned to sell.

The county has been running a deficit for years on maintenance of the so-called South Scattered Sites, which are set aside for extremely low-income families. The housing authority had proposed selling the units to a nonprofit or other private buyer, on the condition that they would be maintained at affordable rents for a mix of incomes for the next 55 years. The projected sale proceeds of $32 million would have then gone to building about 126 units of county-owned housing concentrated in one to three sites.

But in the face of increased concern about homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles, county officials decided Tuesday to hang on to the apartments.

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The tenants pay 30% of their income — an average of $360 a month, a spokeswoman for the county’s Housing Authority said. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development chips in an additional $262 per unit, on average, but county officials said that’s not enough. The housing sites have been running a $425,000 annual deficit for the last five years.

Housing Authority officials said in a report to the supervisors in May that the units are more difficult and expensive to maintain because they are geographically dispersed across 38 sites. Many of them are also in disrepair and need an estimated $6 million for deferred maintenance over the next 10 years.

Tenants and housing advocates raised concerns that the housing units would become less affordable once they were sold. Currently, the apartments are set aside for extremely low-income households, but nonprofits and affordable housing developers told county officials they would not be able to sustain renting only to those tenants and would have to take a mix of incomes, Housing Authority Deputy Executive Director Emilio Salas said.

And although current tenants would be offered vouchers to find other housing, there is no guarantee they would be able to find it, said Fernando Gaytan, an attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which works with tenants.

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“Public housing really is the housing of last resort for many families that would otherwise end up homeless,” Gaytan said.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents South L.A., asked his colleagues to put the brakes on the sale Tuesday.

“The bottom line is that we are in the midst of a regionwide housing crisis,” Ridley-Thomas said. “This is not the time to dispose of 241 units of affordable housing anywhere in the county of Los Angeles.”

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The supervisors agreed in a 3-1 vote to halt the potential sale and keep the housing public, giving priority to homeless families and domestic violence victims.

It was not immediately clear where the money would come from to continue paying for the shortfall, or whether the county officials would be able to prevail on the federal government for more money.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich voted against the proposal, citing concerns that the county’s general fund would end up on the hook, and Supervisor Don Knabe was absent.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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Twitter: @sewella

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