'This Is A Moral Issue That Faces Our City'

Friday, March 14, 2008
R.W. Dellinger
Tidings Online

On March 5, a broad-based coalition of business people, housing advocates and developers, labor and religious leaders, nonprofit organizers and renters came together on the south lawn of City Hall to launch a city-wide campaign to address Los Angeles' burgeoning housing crisis.

A renewed Housing LA, which pushed through the L.A. Housing Trust Fund in 2001, began a new campaign to "call to action" city officials in adopting a three-point plan to produce and preserve affordable local homes.

Pastor Ryan Bell of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church told some 300 demonstrators that the deepening housing crisis adversely affects all Angelenos because "fewer and fewer" individuals and families can afford to call Los Angeles home.

He pointed out that businesses cannot find employees who can afford to live in the city; schools are losing students because families must relocate to more affordable locales as far away as Palmdale; and urban faith communities, like his church, are facing fewer and fewer congregants in their pews. The senior pastor stressed that these declining institutions make up the "very structures" of American society.

"So I'm here today to say, 'This is a moral issue that faces our city,'" he declared. "I'm obligated by my religious tradition - as are my colleagues in Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other traditions - to view quality and safe housing as a basic right.

"What is at stake here is much more than just the economic prosperity of our city. What is at stake is the dignity and humanity of millions of people in our city: families, seniors, children. When we hear the suffering of our people, many of whom come to their house of worship for help, we're compelled to act and we feel God would want us to act."

Sermons from the pulpit were not enough, according to Pastor Bell. He said religious leaders, along with other coalition members, are specifically calling on Mayor Villaraigosa and the City Council to enact Housing LA's proposal.

Over 100 endorsers

The three-point plan calls for the city to dedicate a fixed, long-term source of funding to the Housing Trust Fund, to pass a strong, citywide mixed-income housing ordinance and to protect existing affordable housing at risk of conversion or demolition.

The plan currently has more than 100 endorsers, including such heavyweight organizations as the ACLU of Southern California, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Southern Christian Leadership Council, Service Employees International Union Locals 721 and 1877, and United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

Moreover, a number of religious groups have signed on, including Blessed Sacrament and St. Agatha Catholic Churches, Bethany Baptist Church of West Los Angeles, Grant A.M.E. Church, Trinity Episcopal Church and United University Church.

City Councilmembers Jan Perry, Eric Garcetti and Herb Wesson have not only endorsed the plan, but pledged to work with Housing LA to craft legislation. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel has promised her support, too.

At the outdoor rally, City Controller Laura Chick said, "It is time to stop talking 'why no' [more affordable housing] and talk about 'why yes.' And to that end, I have reached out to my friends who are leaders in the business community to ask them to come to the table in a head-on discussion about what their concerns are and how we can address them."

Tony Salazar, president of the West Coast division of McCormack, Baron, Salazar, a national real estate development and property management company, called on L.A. lawmakers to enact a mixed-income housing policy. He said the ordinance should require private developers building market-rate housing to dedicate a certain percentage to low-cost affordable housing for working individuals and families.

"Let me tell you something that we've learned," he said. "I don't know any developer who's built mixed-income housing that's gone broke."

Secondly, he asserted, "mixed-income developments have not caused declining property values, nor have they prevented other housing developments of high quality to be built around them.

"And, number three, people of different incomes can and do live together. We go to church together. We sit in the same pews together. We don't ask how much money we make. Housing and communities are about values, not about how much money you make."

Won't stop development

Salazar stressed that mixed-income housing won't put a halt to development in Los Angeles. "It's will not stop investment coming into this city," he said, "nor will it drive developers away."

Violeta Hudson, a community leader with POWER (People Organized for Westside Renewal), spoke passionately about the need for stronger preservation laws to protect affordable housing in L.A. for "extra, extra" low-income renters like herself.

"I'm here today with my tenant action committee to fight back," she proclaimed. "People are losing their homes. That ain't right! People are being driven out into the street. I don't know what it is like to be homeless, but I've seen homeless people. And that ain't right!

"Gentrification is destroying low-income neighborhoods," she added. "So I'm here today to ask the city councilmen and the mayor to support - support! - residential hotel apartments. I also want you all to save rent control by voting no on Proposition 98."

The executive-secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Maria Elena Durazo was the last speaker. She reported that three million fulltime workers in the county earn less than $25,000, which isn't enough to rent a one-bedroom apartment, never mind buying a median-priced home, which currently is more than $500,000.

The labor leader implored city officials to approve Housing LA's proposal.

"Because we know that when our city leaders adopt this plan, not if, that it will make it more possible for everyone to have shelter with dignity," Durazo said. "And that includes those workers - like home-care workers, janitors, port truck drivers, security officers, car wash workers and hotel workers - who perform very important services and roles in our lives."

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