L.A. housing mess laid at mayor's door

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley is faced with a major crisis that is threatening to directly affect the public perception of his administration. Critics are laying blame for continuing mismanagement in the housing division of the Community Development Department squarely at the door of the Mayor's office.

The problem involves a curbersome bureaucracy, regular delays in delivery of the housing division's services, excessive use of federal funds to pay for a bloated administration, failure to take full advantage of state programs, and a system of record-keeping that has been compared to the work of amateurs.

But the fracas holds even deeper implications. The city is squeezed for all types of housing, especially for affordable housing, and just now is clearing its first tough political skirmishes in the rent-control battle.

Members of citizen groups and watchdog organizations say that Mayor Bradley's failure to transform the housing division into an efficient operation could backfire politically if he decides to seek a third term.

"For the six years of his administration, he has shown no inclination to take a strong stand on housing issues, to make sure the city has a coordinated policy to deal with these problems," says Cary Lowe, codirector of the California Public Policy Center. "It could be a real time bomb."

The troubles ballooned to scandalous proportions recently when the City Council's chief legislative analyst told one of his top deputies to take a one-week paid vacation after that deputy, Gil Archuletta, released internal memos to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Confusion swirled about how the memos were obtained by the newspaper.

The memos outlined a lack of initiative by housing director Kathleen Connell and spelled out other housing division miseries.

Miss Connell worked as a housing consultant to the Bradley administration when housing matters were handled directly out of the Mayor's office in the early 1970s. She later served as housing coordinator and then took the job as housing division director when the Community Development Department was formed as a separate city agency.

Mayor Bradley, critics suggest, it not well versed in housing matters and misread how the 1973-74 recession would affect the Los Angeles housing supply. Critics say, too, that the Mayor has not received the best advice on how to deal with the longstanding shortage.

While the continued rapid population growth in Los Angeles might challenge the abilities of any administration, and while the City Council shares some responsibility, the Community Development Department apparently is not operated with the kind of smooth administration that Mayor Bradley is reputed to maintain.

"It's just mind-boggling," city controller Ira Reiner told the Monitor, "and that is not an overblow word to describe it."

Late last year, a coalition of community groups filed a lawsuit that included detailed charges of how the division soaked up "millions of dollars" for administration but failed to deliver programs, particularly those of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

While Mr. Reiner's office has only formally audited the Community Development Department, and not the housing division, he said the facts stated in the lawsuit "sound about right -- they fit with everything I've seen." He said a housing division audit is probable.

To date Mayor Bradley has had "no comment," according to a press aide, on the housing division troubles.

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