Community Commentary: Ending redevelopment has devastating consequences

In an effort to balance the state budget, the California Supreme Court voted at the end of December to eliminate redevelopment agencies across the state effective Jan. 31. It further struck down a separate law that would have allowed agencies to stay afloat if they paid more than $1 billion to the state.

The decision has understandably caused a reverberation of panic from proponents desperate to find an amicable way to salvage redevelopment in some form and stave off the chaos that will surface as a result of dismantling the agencies.

Irvine Housing Opportunities (IHO) is a mission-driven, nonprofit affordable housing developer. Like many of our for-profit and nonprofit colleagues, we are dedicated to building quality housing that enhances the individuals and communities we serve.

Redevelopment agencies and the funds they provide are the single most stable source of funding available in California to help finance affordable housing, community and economic development. The developments and projects redevelopment agencies have funded brought construction jobs with local hiring mandates and a demand for goods and services associated with the construction.

The resultant new developments and recapitalization of existing projects bring new tax revenue streams and jobs for the businesses that are created and the cycle continues. The affordable housing IHO and other developers create and operate bring stability to some of the most vulnerable citizens and communities in our state including the newly homeless, working poor, those seeking refuge from abuse and neglect, youth coming out of the foster care system, and the developmentally disabled, mentally ill and low-income seniors — many living below the poverty of poverty.

IHO has spent the last two years rethinking ways to develop new housing models that are more efficient and cost effective, and that will provide the stability individuals and families need to rebuild their lives so that they can ultimately live productive lives independent of government assistance. However, an unintended consequence of the Supreme Court's decision has been that IHO's programs to develop housing for veteran families and other families in need are now in jeopardy. Regardless of whether the projects are funded by federal programs or redevelopment agency funds, the affordable housing staff capacity is being devastated at the local level as a direct result of the Supreme Court decision. With staff cuts in more than 400 redevelopment agencies pending, this conundrum is no doubt being replicated across the state.

In every large private or government program, improvement and reassessment is necessary to insure compliance and efficiency. This is no different with the state redevelopment programs. Improvement is critical, but annihilation devastating. It is counterintuitive to any semblance of good business practice to dismantle a system without having a game plan in place to replace or phase out the existing one. But this is precisely what the redevelopment community is facing now.

It is argued that without stable homes, students are less productive and focused at school and behavioral problems increase. Without stable homes, parents can't get jobs or enroll students in school and, as a result, crimes increase. The impact of a lack of affordable housing logically impacts schools and public safety. When the dust settles, the real casualties of the dissolution of redevelopment may be the very ones the governor is hoping to assist.

PATRICIA WHITAKER is chief executive at Irvine Housing Opportunities (IHO).

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