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Why the delay on redeveloping Jordan Downs?

Why the delay on redeveloping Jordan Downs?
Community members in the Jordan Downs Housing Development in Watts, including Amada Valle, 58, in white shirt, Vice President of the Jordan Downs Resident Advisory Council, head out on their weekly Friday morning walk around the development on July 31. (Los Angeles Times)

As Los Angeles reflects on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts uprising, the community can celebrate new amenities such as Serenity Park on Monitor Avenue, a refurbished 109th Street swimming pool, the nearly complete 103rd Street streetscape project, the planned Children's

Institute campus designed by Frank Gehry and chef Roy Choi's recently funded Loco'l restaurant.

But one crucial project is missing from this list: the redevelopment of Jordan Downs.

In 2011, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles chose a developer to completely renovate this public housing complex — once the most dangerous in Los Angeles. But meaningful work has yet to start and funding has yet to be secured.

We know what the source of the delay is — the ineffectivness of the Housing Authority. This city agency simply hasn't made the Jordan Downs project a priority.

In the meantime, Watts has become a national model for police/community relations. Young people from Jordan Downs and other public housing projects are being mentored and coached by Los Angeles Police Department officers and supported by an array of effective community groups, notably the Watts Gang Task Force. Crime at Jordan Downs has decreased 62.5% in the last five years.

Now more than ever Watts deserves a transformation for Jordan Downs that will match the strides made by the community. The plans call for the 43-acre World War II-era complex, one of four public housing projects in Watts, to be turned into a modern, 119-acre mixed-income, mixed-use urban village, complete with new stores, more open space and top-notch urban design. It will mean a better quality of life and lead to more opportunities for the residents of Jordan Downs and the surrounding community.

For the last two years, because of the Housing Authority's mismanagement and mistakes, the Jordan Downs project has been passed over twice in the competition for a $30-million federal Choice Neighborhood Implementation grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This year's application was disqualified because it was incomplete — a letter from Mayor Eric Garcetti in support of the project wasn't submitted as required. Last year, the application failed to make it past the first round, even though this grant money is set aside specifically for rehabbing out-of-date public housing.

The Housing Authority has also failed in its attempt to win state grant money for the Jordan Downs project from California's carbon cap-and-trade program. That program, which auctions permits for greenhouse gas emissions, earmarks money for "green" projects, including transit-oriented affordable housing. Jordan Downs is just blocks from the Metro Blue Line, so it should qualify.

However, the Housing Authority's Jordan Downs application for these state funds scored only a 65. Two city projects that won cap-and-trade grants, in Harbor Gateway, scored more than 95 points. Those applications were prepared by private firms.

There is no excuse for the failure to obtain these funds. I'm calling for new leadership at the Housing Authority; a new president and chief executive must make Jordan Downs a priority.

The Jordan Downs redevelopment plans more than meet the goals and criteria of these federal and state funding programs. The project has the support of every elected official who represents Watts in Washington, Sacramento and Los Angeles. It is an embarrassment and an outrage that the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles has been unable to secure the funding that could bring the Jordan Downs project into reality. Watts deserves better.

Joe Buscaino represents Watts and the 15th District on the Los Angeles City Council.

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