Plans for the revitalization of the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts have been thrown into disarray after Los Angeles officials learned Monday that the city will not be awarded a $30-million federal grant they had been counting on for the development.
For years, officials have been touting their plan to spend more than $700 million to transform the derelict and often dangerous housing project into a mixed-income community of up to 1,800 stylish new apartments, along with chain stores and new streetscapes.
City officials had already purchased land to expand the 1940s-era project, marshaled funds to extend Century Boulevard and launched a series of social programs designed to help residents improve their lives in advance of a new community that mixes the city’s poorest with higher-income people.
But officials had pinned their hopes on a $30-million Choice Neighborhoods federal grant, which would have been used to leverage other funds.
Los Angeles was eliminated from the competition for that money Monday in favor of other cities such as Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
“We’re obviously disappointed and quite surprised,” said Doug Guthrie, the head of the city’s Housing Authority.
He said officials remain committed to finding a way to carry the project forward, but it’s unclear how the funding might work.
Guthrie said officials might identify new sources of money or reapply for the same federal grant next year.
“We are going to have to sit down with our development team and figure out where we go from here,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of people behind this ... we’re not going to give up easily. We’re going to figure out what we do next.”
A spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti said: “We remain committed to supporting the residents and revitalizing Jordan Downs.”
The project’s private developers, hired by the housing authority in 2012, said they too were disappointed, but were confident that the redevelopment can still proceed. Kim McKay, executive vice president of BRIDGE Housing, said the team already has commitments for $215 million in public and private funds.
“In our experience, there’s no large-scale public housing redevelopment in the country that has 100% of its finances from start to finish figured out at the very beginning,” said Whitney Weller, senior vice president at the Michaels Organization, the other developer on the team.
Still, some at Jordan Downs took it hard when the news was announced Monday at the regular meeting of the Watts Gang Task Force.
“You could hear a pin drop,” said Mike Cummings, who grew up in Watts and works at Jordan Downs helping run Project Fatherhood, one of the many social services programs that has flooded into the project in recent years.
“It’s a huge disappointment and you could feel it in that room,” he said. “Everyone has been hoping and planning for this, so now we don’t know what to think. If any community needed that grant, Watts really needed and deserved it. With the violence and the lack of jobs here, the development is really, really important.”
Andre Christian, who also grew up in the area and works with Project Fatherhood, said he was concerned for all the men who have been training for construction jobs, hoping for employment building the new project.
“This is a blow,” he said. “A big blow to the ones who have been putting so much hope on this.”
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles), who has represented the area for years — first on the City Council and now in Congress — said she wants “a full explanation ... on why this community has been left out yet again.”
Earlier this year, South Los Angeles, including Watts, was excluded from the boundaries of a new Promise Zone in the city, designed to marshal federal resources to fight poverty.
“I’m very angry,” Hahn said. “It’s hard to believe that Watts would have been passed over again.... It’s such a kick in the stomach. I can’t imagine another community in this country that is more deserving of a little bit of help from the federal government.”