Clever Architecture

Where is OCs affordable housing?

Photo by Keith MaySometime in the next year, the city of Anaheim will embark upon its highly controversial Jeffrey-Lynne Revitalization Project, which officials claim will solve the mostly Latino, working-class neighborhood's chronic problems of overpopulation, crumbling buildings and crime. The city's solution: surround the community with security gates, widen streets and alleys, build a lavish community center, tear down several apartment buildings, and kick out anywhere from 400 to 1,000 people who live at or below the federal poverty line.

There's at least one big problem with that last item: although Anaheim has promised to pay rental assistance for up to 42 months to the people who will be forced to move, the city has yet to explain exactly where those families will be able find new housing. And for good reason: not a single unit of affordable housing for people earning less than $20,000 per year (which includes most of Jeffrey-Lynne's 3,820 residents) has been created in Orange County in the past 10 years.

Instead of building cheap apartments or affordable housing complexes, local officials have instead squandered tens of millions of dollars in U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds on street widening projects, new jails, hotels, restaurants and other "urban renewal" projects that, while helping to increase local property values, have nothing to do with affordable housing.

The reason is a loophole in federal law that allows cities to use HUD-sponsored community-development block grant (CDBG) funds for virtually any project imaginable. According to HUD's summary of the CDBG program, its objective is to "develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing, a suitable living environment and expanding economic opportunities, principally for persons of low and moderate income." Yet—and here's the loophole—HUD allows the cities that have received CDBG money to "develop their own programs and funding priorities."

In Garden Grove, city officials have responded to HUD's funding flexibility by ignoring dozens of crumbling and roach- rat-infested buildings at the Haster Gardens apartment complex. The city's neglect of that neighborhood lasted until earlier this year, when hundreds of tenants began protesting the conditions there. Simultaneously, Garden Grove spent millions in CDBG funds on the Harbor Corridor Master Hotel District, a 21-acre commercial project that includes three hotels and three restaurants, which the city began building three years ago. The city is also using HUD money to pay for an additional three-hotel project at the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Avenue.

Santa Ana officials failed to create a single unit of affordable housing this year but spent more than $5 million in CDBG funds to repay outstanding loans for its pet pair of HUD projects: the still-ongoing Bristol Street widening project and Santa Ana's state-of-the-art police holding facility. The city also doled out an additional $2 million in CDBG funds on such pressing concerns as the Santa Ana Police Department's DARE program ($20,000), city-administration expenses ($200,000) and the police department's helicopter program ($200,000).

For the past five years, Anaheim has spent the bulk of its CDBG expenditures—more than $1 million per year—on code enforcement, claiming that the city has pursued 750 slumlord cases at a rate of roughly three per week. (The city has yet to cooperate with a May 13 California Public Records Act request filed by the Weekly for documents pertaining to the city's alleged prosecution of errant slumlords.) But that number is about to go sky-high: Anaheim is now asking Sacramento for $24 million of California's share of federal affordable-housing subsidies and tax credits to renovate Jeffrey-Lynne.

Part of the process requires that Anaheim convince state officials that the Jeffrey-Lynne renovation project will have no negative impact on the neighborhood or surrounding communities. That was accomplished on June 24, when Anaheim filed a negative declaration in lieu of conducting a detailed environmental-impact report (EIR) on the upcoming project. The city's declaration flatly states that there is "no substantial evidence that there will be significant adverse environmental impacts associated with the project."

That notion is likely to be challenged by at least one group:the Anaheim-based community group Los Amigos of Orange County. "In Jeffrey-Lynne, the city will displace up to 1,000 people," said Amin David, chairman of Los Amigos. "Even though they filed a negative EIR, we're going to challenge that. We know there's no affordable housing for those people."

Alan Baldwin, executive director of the Santa Ana-based Orange County Housing Corporation, agrees. Baldwin's nonprofit organization manages 12 apartment units in Anaheim's Paseo Village redevelopment project, which is heralded by city officials as the model for Jeffrey-Lynne.

"Paseo Village was a mistake, and we were part of it," Baldwin said. Before the city renovated Paseo Village, many apartments were shared by two families because the average rent cost tenants $650 per month—too much money for a couple earning $10 per hour at Disneyland. "What they needed were apartments for $300 or $350 per month," Baldwin explained. "Now the cheapest unit there is $650 per month."

The result, said Baldwin, is that only one person who lived in Paseo Village before Anaheim got its hands on it still lives there. Everyone else moved in from outside the neighborhood. "Paseo Village wasn't a model for anything other than some clever architecture," concluded Baldwin. "It's not a model for affordable housing, even though it was affordable-housing money that built it."

 
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