TONIGHT: Offer Comments on How Federal Funds Should Be Spent in South L.A.

Downtown view from the Blue Line (photo: sahra)

Tonight, the city’s Community Development Department (CDD), will hold a community meeting in South L.A. (details below) to present the 2013-2017 Draft Consolidated Plan and solicit feedback from residents about the Mayor’s proposals for how to spend millions in federal funds to assist very-low, low-, and moderate-income communities around the city.

The meeting picks up where three meetings in South L.A. (and six others in other parts of the city) left off last fall, when only 80 residents from the area came to speak about the kinds of changes they wanted to see in their neighborhoods over the next five years.

Despite the low turnout at the first set of meetings, attendees hit upon many of the key issues affecting the area. At each gathering, residents highlighted the need for affordable housing, access to social services (mental health, elderly, family, and youth), access to various levels of job training and placement, and significant investments in economic development.

The emphasis on housing was certainly no surprise to administrators. City-wide, approximately 29,000 families are on the wait-list for public housing while 7,000-plus remain on the Section 8 wait-list, which has been closed since 2005. Residents were also concerned about the preservation of existing housing. At the Southwest L.A. community meeting, for example, the 14 attendees spoke about the need to ensure that new developments along transit or shopping corridors did not displace current residents. In the South and Southeast L.A. meetings, residents expressed the need for affordable housing that was also beautiful, with greenery and safe park spaces for families to enjoy.

Concerns about the state of South L.A. youth appeared paramount. In Watts, residents spoke about how youth suffered from a lack of access to mentors, services, job training or placement, arts education, recreational facilities and activities, technology in schools, and safe passage. Along the Vermont corridor, residents echoed many of these same concerns and also spoke about the need for greater assistance for youth in foster care, community centers, and the creation of safer environments, including gang violence reduction and a better relationship with law enforcement.

All of the communities wanted better access to good-paying jobs and the services (skills centers, etc.) that might help residents get hired for such jobs. And, in areas along growing transit corridors or undergoing a revitalization, like Southwest L.A., residents discussed their desire to see the city aid and protect existing business owners, facilitate more local business ownership, and protect and enhance existing community assets.

The concerns and aspirations heard at the meetings, as well as consultations with local organizations, business improvement districts, advocacy groups and service providers, hopefully help to give planners some site- and needs-specificity to some of the more generalized feedback about needs and priorities gathered via almost 1100 community needs assessment surveys.

According to CDD flyers announcing tonight’s South L.A. meeting, the city was indeed listening, “and has included many of [these] ideas in a plan that will make these improvements, and more, possible in your community.” Reviewing the variety of documents linked to the draft plan, it isn’t quite clear that they will be able to fully address South L.A.’s needs in a deeply meaningful way. But that is for you to decide: residents are invited to come and learn about the proposed plan and offer feedback tonight, at Community Coalition, located at 8101 S. Vermont Ave., from 6 – 8 p.m. The meeting for Watts has been postponed, and no date has been set as yet. Information about meetings in other areas of L.A. can be found here.

In a letter introducing his proposal to City Council, the Mayor purports to offer a holistic approach to mitigating L.A.’s myriad ills by cobbling together a variety of funding sources and a unique collaboration between agencies.

As proposed, the bulk of the funding (44%) is expected to go to mitigating housing needs. Housing seems to be receiving the lions’ share of the funds because the federal money is largely sourced from entities focused on housing — the HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME, designed to produce affordable housing for low-income families), Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG, providing outreach, shelter, rapid rehousing, and prevention services for the homeless and at-risk for homelessness), Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), and the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which come with the requirement that no more than 15% of funds be spent on public services.

The remainder of the funds are, first, to be almost equally distributed between CDBG programs (14%), Public Services (13%), Administration and Planning (14%). Making these smaller allocations work for everyone apparently requires some trade-offs. To work within the cap on CDBG funds, for example, the Mayor recommends that funding for Housing Authority Community Service Centers, the Construction Training and Placement Initiative, and Youth Speak Collective be discontinued and directed instead towards supporting more FamilySource Centers to boost youth academic achievement and economic stability for families.

Economic Development also seems come up a bit short (8%) with regard to funding, given its importance to struggling communities. $3 million of the funds in that category will be directed toward the establishment of an Economic Development Fund to fill the void created by the dissolution of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The EDF will work to leverage “private sector investments to help create/retain jobs and generate investment in under-served communities.” Funds in this category can also be utilized for job creation, technical assistance, commercial facade improvements, and economic development-related services, including the expansion of the BusinessSource Program (although this appears to be mostly directed at neighborhoods other than those in South L.A.).

Finally, the Neighborhood Improvement category limps in last (7%) and seems to be the most in flux. The dissolution of the CRA means that the city has been struggling to obtain matching funds for Metro and other projects. The Mayor hopes that the proposed establishment of a $2.5 million Neighborhood Improvement Fund and focus on strategic investments along transit corridors can “increase the city’s capacity to competitively compete for additional resources” from philanthropic, government, and private sector investors “that focus on transformative place-based initiatives.” South L.A.-specific projects figure in heavily in this category, including streetscape and facade improvements along the commercial corridor of Slauson Ave., the renovation of the Vision Theater in Leimert Park, and the completion of the Watts Towers (Cultural Crescent) parking lot.

More specific details of the proposed investments are available in the appendices of the Mayor’s letter, found here. To email your comments about the plan, please click here.